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Assad blames Turkey for violence, says his regime faces ‘global’ battle

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad blamed Turkey for violence in a 17-month-old uprising in the country, in which thousands have died.

“Turkey bears direct responsibility for the blood being shed in Syria,” Assad told the pro-regime local television channel Ad-Dounia in an interview aired Wednesday.

Assad said the talk of a Western-imposed buffer zone on Syrian territory was unrealistic and that the situation in his country, where rebels have been fighting to overthrow him, was “better.”

“Talk of buffer zones firstly is not on the table and secondly it is an unrealistic idea by hostile countries and the enemies of Syria,” he said.

The embattled president, responding to rumors of his whereabouts since a July bombing in Damascus, said he was speaking from the presidential palace in the capital.

While Assad said the situation is “better” in Syria, he said the country is fighting a “regional and global battle” and it will take time for his regime to win it.

Assad said that his government had been aware some officials were trying to defect and allowed them to leave unhindered.

“Sometimes we had information (on defections) and we would discuss it. Some would suggest we stop them. But we said no, stopping them isn't the right thing to do, letting them leave is the right thing to do ... let's facilitate their exit,” he told the privately-owned channel.

Assad added that such officials should be allowed to leave because it was “cleaning” the state of unpatriotic officials.

Syria's government has been rattled by several high-profile defections as the conflict has escalated, including former premier Riad Hijab and prominent General Manaf Tlass, a childhood friend of Assad.

“Despite several mistakes, there is a strong bond” between the regime and the Syrian people, Assad insisted, boasting the support of the majority of the population.

“What is happening is neither a revolution nor a Spring, it is about terrorist acts in every sense of the term,” he said.

Battle for Taftanaz airport

Syrian rebels, meanwhile, said they destroyed five helicopters in a raid on a military airport between the northern cities of Aleppo and Idlib on Wednesday, while state television said the attack was repelled.

Abu Mossab, a rebel who said he took part in the attack, told AFP via Skype that rebels shelled Taftanaz military airport with two tanks captured from the army and destroyed five helicopters.

“We destroyed five helicopters as well as buildings in the airport,” Abu Mossab said, although it remained in army hands after the raid in which the rebels lost two men before withdrawing.

State television said the military repelled the attack with the airport suffering “no material damage.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier reported fierce fighting near the airport and helicopter raids on the nearby town of Taftanaz.

In Damascus, activists reported a third straight day of army attacks on rebel strongholds in the eastern outer belt of the city, collectively referred to as East Ghuta.

State media said “terrorist mercenaries” had killed four civilians in Zamalka, using its term for rebels fighting government forces since the anti-regime uprising broke out in March 2011.

They had “murdered citizens, including women and men, under the eyes of inhabitants... The terrorists then gathered the bodies of the victims and put them in a mosque in Qadi Askar” district, the SANA news agency said.

It said the assailants had planned to blow up the mosque and then blame the attack on government forces.

State-run newspaper Tishrin said Tuesday’s car bombing of a funeral in Damascus was an indication that the “terrorist” groups have reached “a very advanced stage of despair and bankruptcy.”

The bombing hit Jaramana, a mainly Druze and Christian town on the southeastern outskirts of Damascus that the Observatory described as generally supportive of Assad's government.

Russia on Wednesday called for an impartial investigation into the latest “barbaric” violence in and around Damascus.

“We insist on a meticulous and impartial investigation into the circumstances of the latest tragic events” using the resources of the United Nations' newly opened office in Damascus, the Russian foreign ministry said.

It singled out the car bomb and the discovery of several hundred bodies near the Damascus suburb of Daraya on Sunday that the rebels charge was the result of a massacre by regime forces.

In violence nationwide on Wednesday, at least 101 people were killed, including 56 civilians, according to the Observatory, which says more than 25,000 people have been killed in the 17-month-long revolt.

Meanwhile, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon held talks in Tehran with Iran's leaders including on the Syria conflict.

After meeting parliament speaker Ali Larijani, Iran's parliamentary news website quoted Ban as saying: “Iran can play an important role in solving the Syrian crisis peacefully.”

Iran, the chief ally of Syria's regime, accuses the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar of sustaining the revolt in Syria.