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Up to 11,000 people flee Syria in 24-hour period

Associated Press Modified: November 9, 2012 at 3:01 pm •  Published: November 9, 2012

He called it a case of "terrorism through proxies, either Syrians living in Syria or foreign fighters coming from abroad."

Asked if he has any regrets, he said: "Not now," although he acknowledged that "when everything is clear" it would be normal to find some mistakes.

Assad, 47, insists that there has been no popular uprising in his country and said he will not step down, hinting he will stay in his post until at least 2014, when elections are scheduled.

"I think for the president to stay or leave is a popular issue," he said.

He said that when foreign countries stop sending arms to rebels, "I can tell (you) that in weeks we can finish everything."

The conflict began largely with peaceful protests of Assad's rule but turned bloody after rebels took up arms in response to the regime's crackdown. Rebels have driven regime forces out of much of a pocket of northwestern Syria and battle troops in several cities and towns, even as the fight takes on dangerous sectarian tones between a mainly Sunni opposition and a regime dominated by Assad's minority Allawite sect.

Assad, who came to power after his father and predecessor Hafez died in 2000, said in a portion of the interview released Thursday that he will "live and die" in Syria and will not leave his country.

Sophie Shevardnadze, the RT correspondent who conducted the interview at a presidential palace in Damascus, said Assad told her before the session that his British-born wife, Asma, and his three children are still in Syria.

The Observatory said at least 120 people were killed in violence across the country Friday, including 18 who died in intense shelling of the eastern town of Qouriyeh in the Deir el-Zour province, which borders Iraq.

Amateur video posted by Syrian activists showed graphic footage of men, women and children, some of them with gaping wounds at what appeared to be a market.

Activist videos could not be independently verified due to reporting restrictions in Syria, but they appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the events depicted.

A car bomb near the mayor's office in the Damascus suburb of Maadamiyeh killed at least four people, the Observatory said.

Syria's main opposition bloc in exile, the Syrian National Council, chose a Paris-based former geography teacher Friday as its new president. George Sabra, a Christian, said his election is a sign the opposition is not plagued by sectarian divisions.

But the SNC suffered a major blow when the Local Coordination Committees, a key activist network in Syria, announced it was withdrawing from the council. In a statement Friday, it said the SNC has failed to reform and was no longer considered fit to be the political representative of the Syrian people.

Adib Shishakly, one of the SNC's founders and the grandson of a former president of Syria, also announced his resignation because of the group's lack of transparency and failure to reform.

The SNC has been widely criticized by U.S. officials and other Syrian oposition groups as being petty, ineffective and cut off from events in Syria.

The resignations came as the SNC was debating in Doha, Qatar, whether to become part of a single leadership group that would set up a transitional government in rebel-held areas of Syria. Several senior SNC members said the group is likely to accept the U.S.-backed plan in principle, possibly by the end of Friday, but has significant reservations.

Proponents say the plan could give new momentum to the battle to oust Assad.


Heilprin reported from Geneva. Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Karin Laub in Doha, Qatar, and Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Lebanon contributed to this report.