Syrian President Bashar Assad accused the United States in a television interview on Sunday of fueling a violent uprising against his government, The Associated Press reported.
Assad, who spoke to German public broadcaster ARD was quoted as saying that America is partnering with those “terrorists ... with weapons, money or public and political support at the United Nations.”
He added that he won't step down “in the face of national challenges.”
AP noted that ARD released Assad's comments translated into German on Sunday ahead of the full interview's broadcasting.
ARD said the interview, only the third Assad has given to a western news organization since Syria's uprising broke out in March 2011, was conducted Thursday in Damascus and recorded by Syria's state television.
Syria's opposition says the uprising has left more than 14,000 dead since last year. Assad, who has made rare public appearances since the uprising erupted, insists that his regime is battling “armed terrorist groups” rather than civilians demanding a leadership change.
In a previous interview in May, Assad insisted his regime is fighting back against foreign mercenaries who want to overthrow him and not innocent Syrians aspiring for democracy.
“There are foreign mercenaries, some of them still alive,” he said. “They are being detained and we are preparing to show them to the world.”
Meanwhile, the Syrian Army launched a major military drill on Saturday. The maneuvers, which began Saturday, are expected to continue for the next few days and are intended to simulate defense against outside “aggression,” said a report on Syria’s state news agency SANA.
The Syrian Navy reportedly carried out a live fire drill over the weekend to simulate a surprise attack from the sea, with senior military officials observing the exercises.
A top general, Manaf Tlass, defected from Assad’s army last week. Tlass was an officer in the elite Republican Guard charged with protecting the regime. He is the son of former defense minister Mustafa Tlass, a close friend of Assad's late father and predecessor, Hafez.
The Pentagon said on Friday that Tlass’ defection is “significant” and signals cracks in President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle.