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Assad tells Argentine newspaper he won’t step down as Syria’s president

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he won't step down before elections. On Saturday, rebels kidnapped the father of Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

Assad's comments to the Argentine newspaper Clarin highlight difficulties the international community faces in getting Syrian officials and opposition to meet at a June conference. The country's main opposition group has demanded that these talks lead to Assad's departure.

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Westerwelle speaks on Syria conflict

"I am not someone who flees from my responsibilities," Assad said.

Syria's civil war has led to the deaths of more than 70,000 people since it began as a peaceful uprising in 2011, according to United Nations. Several million people have also been displaced.

The US, Britain and Israel have reported that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in the civil war. Assad denied those claims to the newspaper.

"Accusations that Syria used chemical weapons and talk about my resignation change every day," he said in the interview. "This is probably being used as a prelude to a war against our country. I don't rule out a Western war against Syria."

High-level abduction

On Saturday, gunmen abducted the father of Syria's deputy foreign minister. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the news agency AFP that Muqdad's father was seized "in reprisal for the arrest by regime forces of relatives of one of the armed men" and that negotiations were under way to free him.

On Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a wave of mutual kidnappings between rival Islamic militant groups in the northern city of Aleppo after clashes killed at least four rebel fighters. Abdul-Rahman said that a coalition of rebel groups known as the Judicial Council had accused another armed opposition faction, the Ghurabaa al-Sham, of plundering factories in Aleppo's industrial neighborhood.

‘Unfortunate decision'

On Friday, the US expressed disapproval after Russia sent a missile shipment to the Syrian government. Top US military official General Martin Dempsey said on Friday that Moscow's most recent delivery of anti-ship missiles was "ill-timed and very unfortunate." Russia's decision to allow the arms consignment, Dempsey added, risked protracting the civil war within Syria.

"It's at the very least an unfortunate decision that will embolden the regime and prolong the suffering," Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.

The Yakhont missiles, which were recently delivered by Moscow, have advanced radar. That makes them more effective against ships, the New York Times reported Friday, quoting US government sources familiar with classified intelligence reports.

mkg/jr (AFP, dpa, AP)

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