Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sounded totally detached from reality Wednesday, telling an interviewer that "the situation is much better" in Syria following 18 months of violence and an estimated death toll of 22,000. "This military is carrying out its duties. The armed forces, the police and the security forces are carrying out heroic duties with every sense," he told privately-owned Dunya television in a rare appearance. "The situation is much better."
The comments suggested a desire to push back against statements by Syria's ex-Prime Minister Riad Hijab earlier this month that the regime was on the verge of "collapsing." But they also suggested a willingness to continue killing rebels in a protracted war of attrition. "We are fighting a regional and global war, so time is needed to win it," Assad said. "The operation that’s going on now is the cleansing of our nation ... The battle is a battle of perseverance." That's bad news both for human rights groups, who have issued warnings about the potential death toll of an extended civil war, and Western leaders, who've stated repeatedly that the Assad regime will not survive. Assad's insistence that he just "needs more time" also feeds into criticisms that the United Nation's peacekeeping efforts merely bought Syrian security forces more time to kill and intimidate opposition forces during a distracting cease-fire negotiation process.
Interestingly enough, it appears neighboring Turkey will no longer sit on its hands. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters Wednesday that the country would press the U.N. Security Council to establish safe havens in Syria for victims. "We expect the U.N. to step in and protect the refugees inside Syria, and if possible, to shelter them in camps there," he said. As The Associated Press reports, "Turkey has long been floating the idea of a no-fly zone, or buffer zone, to protect displaced Syrians from attacks by President Bashar Assad's forces, but the issue has become more pressing now the number of refugees in Turkey has exceeded 80,000 - an amount it says approaches its limits."
Meanwhile, in a more ominous report, Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva reports that rebels claim to have seized a number of missiles after taking over a military base. That's according to a statement by the Supreme Military Council of the Syrian rebels. "During the successful operation, the operatives of the Free Syrian Army found a large number of rockets ready for launching, with enormous destructive capability, and they were very surprised to find missiles that were converted to carry non-conventional warheads and which can be equipped with chemical or biological warheads," read the statement. The reference to chemical weapons, even though none were allegedly found, seems to be designed to trigger press attention, given that President Obama has said the use of chemical weapons constitutes a "red line" for the U.S.