BEIRUT // Syria's president Bashar Al Assad claimed in an interview published Thursday that his international opponents have "used up all their tools" in their campaign to overthrow his regime. The remarks came as western-backed Syrian opposition figures gathered in Turkey to elect a new leadership.
In comments to the state-run Al-Thawra newspaper, Mr Assad rejected the idea that there was a revolution in Syria, insisting instead it is a conspiracy by Western and some Arab states to destabilise his country.
"The countries that conspire against Syria have used up all their tools ... and they have nothing left except direct (military) intervention," Assad said in the interview, adding that such an intervention would not happen.
The Syrian regime says Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, in addition to the United States and its European allies, are on the list of countries conspiring against Syria. In the same interview, Mr Assad praised this week's massive protests by Egyptians against their Islamist leader and said the overthrow of president Mohammed Morsi meant the end of "political Islam."
Mr Assad's comments coincided with a meeting of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul in the second attempt in as many months by his opponents to unify their ranks.
The opposition bloc is mostly made up of exiled politicians with little support from Syrians trying to survive the third summer of conflict in the country that has been devastated by the fighting.
In late May, the opposition leaders met for more than a week in Istanbul, but failed to elected new leaders or devise a strategy for possible peace talks that the US and Russia have been trying to convene in Geneva.
Khaled Saleh, a SNC spokesman, said Thursday that "any talks with Damascus on transition must start with the departure of Assad from power."
Al-Thawra, the newspaper, also quoted Mr Assad saying his opponents failed because they tried to bring religion onto the battlefield. Mr Assad insisted he still enjoys the support of the majority of Syrians, who have stood against Islamic radicals who have emerged as the most effective force on the opposition's side.
Members of Syria's Sunni Muslim majority have dominated the rebel ranks, while Assad's regime is mostly made up of Alawaites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.
"Whoever brings religion to use for political or factional interests will fall anywhere in the world," Assad said in the interview, again citing Morsi's overthrow by the military in Egypt.
In the past weeks, Assad's army has been waging an offensive to regain control of territory it lost to the opposition. The fighting has been particularly fierce in the central city of Homs, parts of which have been an opposition stronghold since the beginning of the revolt more than two years ago.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy clashes between government troops and rebels on Thursday in the Khaldiyeh and Bab Houd districts of Homs, and said regime warplanes hit targets there early in the morning. Rebels have held those districts for the past year.
Russia meanwhile blocked a UN Security Council demand that Syria allow immediate access to thousands of civilians trapped in Homs, diplomats said.
Syria's opposition warned Thursday that the fall of Homs in particular could scupper any hope of a political solution to the civil war.
The fall of rebel strongholds in Homs, a symbol of the revolt against President Bashar Al Assad's rule, would make any talks with the regime unpalatable to too many Syrians, spokesman Khaled Saleh said.
"If Homs falls, it will be very difficult for us to explain to the families of tens of thousands of dead Syrians why we negotiated with a regime that shows us day after day that it doesn't want a political solution and that it only wants to kill more Syrians."
* With Agence France Presse