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