BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s President Bashar Assad will comment on U.S. and European demands that he step down and sanctions in an interview that will be broadcast Sunday on state television.
The state-run news agency said Assad will also speak about government reforms and his "future vision" for Syria. The television interview, scheduled for after the evening news broadcast, will be Assad’s fourth public appearance since the revolt against his family’s 40-year rule erupted in mid-March.
It is very rare for Assad to give an interview to a local media outlet. In his previous appearances, he gave nationally televised speeches that further inflamed tensions on the streets and led to even larger protests calling for his downfall.
In his last speech on June 20, he blamed the unrest on a foreign conspiracy and on "saboteurs," offered modest potential reforms, but gave no sign he’d move toward ending the his family’s political domination in the country.
The Syrian leader has come under mounting criticism over the brutal military offensive that has used tanks, snipers and gunboats to try to crush the 5-month-old uprising. Most recently, the United States and its European allies on Thursday demanded he step down.
On Saturday, the government issued its first official response.
The daily Al-Thawra newspaper, which speaks for the Syrian regime, rejected the Obama administration’s calls and any kind of foreign intervention in Syria’s internal affairs, saying Damascus "will never permit anyone to do that."
It said the demands revealed the "face of the conspiracy" against Damascus.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Syrian leaders had to "reconcile" with the people.
"The situation is not sustainable. The Syrian leadership must understand this," the Anatolia news agency quoted Davutoglu as saying to Turkish journalists during a visit to South Africa late Saturday.
"It is not about external reaction or pressure. The Syrian leadership must reconcile with the people. Otherwise it would be difficult for the country to create public order," he said.
Davutoglu his trip to Damascus earlier this month was meant as "a last chance" for Assad before "the international reaction increases."
He said the two men had agreed to a "roadmap" during their talk but that deadly operations against protesters intensified within two days of their meeting.
Turkey, a neighbor and former close ally of Syria, has been increasingly frustrated with Damascus’ crackdown. But Turkey, Syria’s most important trade partner, has not joined the U.S. and Europe in imposing sanctions.
There has been no official comment in Syria following Assad’s declaration to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday that military and security operations have stopped.
The government’s offensive has continued across the country, although on a smaller scale, despite that pledge.
Activists said security forces stormed the Khaldieh district in Homs Sunday, carrying out a security raid and random arrests. They said the military also stormed districts in the northern Idlib province.
Activists said security forces on Saturday shot dead two people in the town of Rastan, near the provincial capital of Homs, including prominent activist Mahmoud Ayoub who organized anti-regime protests.
The group said the troops also wounded at least eight people Saturday in Homs, where a general strike was under way to protest the crackdown and most of the city’s markets were closed.
A Syrian military official said an "armed, terrorist group" ambushed a military bus in Homs Saturday, killing two officers and wounding three others, one of them in critical condition. The regime often blames violence on alleged armed gangs seeking to destabilize Syria, instead of true reform seekers.
The latest casualties, along with 29 people who activists said were shot dead Friday in different locations across the country, suggest Assad is either unwilling to stop the violence — or not fully in control of his own regime. Activists say nearly 2,000 civilians have been killed since the uprising began in mid-March.
AP writer Suzan Fraser contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.
Zeina Karam can be reached on http://twitter.com/zkaram