BEIRUT: The conflict in Syria will likely drag on for a long period and divisions in the opposition pose an obstacle to dialogue with Damascus, visitors to President Bashar Assad quoted him as saying, Lebanon’s As-Safir reported Monday.
“The battle is still long because we are fighting terrorism which all the forces in the world have failed to defeat,” the Syrian president was quoted as saying.
“But things have become much better at both the political and military levels,” he added.
According to the Lebanese daily, Assad was quoted by visitors to the Presidential Palace in the Syrian capital.
Assad said that although “the war will not end anytime soon,” his troops are determined to “eradicate” the phenomenon of terrorism in his country.
Earlier this month, Assad was quoted by his visitors as saying his troops had gained the upper hand against rebels in the two-year-old conflict and could win in "two weeks" should Turkey halt its support to insurgents.
Damascus insists it is waging a war against foreign-backed “armed gangs” seeking to topple Assad. The United Nations says over 70,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict in March 2011.
In the As-Safir report Monday, Assad admitted that the militant Nusra Front, which the United States has listed as a terror group, had “overpowered” the state on a number of occasions but insisted that his forces were in a better shape than Damascus’ opponents.
When asked to comment on reports of an increased presence of gunmen, breaches to the states’ security by the Nusra Front and the weakened state of the economy, Assad said: “This is all true but our situation remains much better than the situation of those fighting the state, whether inside or outside Syria, and their supporters.”
Assad was also quoted as saying that he would only engage in dialogue with the opposition based “on our own principles.”
“We will engage in dialogue with those who want dialogue, [but not if] they are terrorists, but based on our own principles and we did not accept conditions imposed on us at the start of the crisis and we will not do so [now],” he said.
In January, Assad said that there would be no dialogue with people he called traitors or "puppets made by the West."
Syrian authorities have given no formal response to several offers of talks by the main opposition coalition.
Assad also cited divisions in the ranks of the Syrian opposition ranks, saying this posed an obstacle to dialogue.
“We never closed our door to dialogue and we will not do that, but we should know who we will be talking to” said Assad.
“Every day, we witness more disintegration of the opposition ... let them agree first and then we will see what to do,” he said.
“We already launched dialogue with the internal opposition and talks have led to positive results, and we said that Syria’s doors are open to everyone except terrorists, who we will keep fighting to the end.”