Syria crisis: Damascus losing information war, says Assad

President Assad speaking to Russia's Rossiya 24: "The Syrian people are not scared by the terrorists who tried to get us to cancel the elections"

Syria is losing the information war against the West, President Bashar al-Assad has admitted, as violence continued across the country.

"They outplayed us... at the very beginning of the crisis - invented stories," he told a Russian TV channel.

Mr Assad also said the results of last week's elections proved Syrians supported his cabinet's reforms.

Separately, Damascus refused to provide a report on torture claims as requested by a United Nations committee.

The Syrian government has complained that UN human rights experts have failed to investigate alleged abuses by opposition forces.

But despite Syria's lack of co-operation, the UN committee in Switzerland is continuing its review of the situation in Syria since the unrest began 15 months ago, the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva reports.

Start Quote

The main thing is to win in real life”

End Quote Bashar al-Assad President of Syria

The committee has already heard evidence of the torture of detainees, including children, and claims that hospital patients have been violently abused by the Syrian security services. The findings are expected to be presented on Friday.

In another development, UN observers who came under fire on Tuesday have been rescued after spending the night with fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army.

UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said other UN personnel had picked up the six-strong monitoring team from the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun on Wednesday and taken them to their team site in Hama.

None of the observers was injured in Tuesday's violence in Khan Sheikhoun, which activists said left at least 20 people dead.

The 212 unarmed military observers and 68 civilian staff working for the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) are monitoring the implementation of a peace plan brokered by UN-African Union envoy Kofi Annan.

A ceasefire was supposed to come into effect on 12 April, but there have been widespread violations by both sides, according to the UN.

'Soap bubbles'
Free Syrian Army fighters celebrate destroying government weaponry near Rastan (14 May 2012) Activists claim that the flow of weapons to the Free Syrian Army has significantly increased

"We cannot win this [information] war," Mr Assad told the Russian state TV channel Rossiya 24, according to the Russian translation dubbed over his English.

He said that the West "released a large amount of false information".

"These lies, or rumours, or false accusations - call them what you will - all these are soap bubbles, they have a short life.

"The main thing is to win in real life," Mr Assad said, adding that this was what government officials "place our reliance on".

He also hailed last week's parliamentary elections as a "very important step as part of the reforms that we started to implement" after mass protests erupted in March 2011.

"This is a serious message to everyone, both inside the country and abroad. The Syrian people were not scared by threats from terrorists who tried to thwart the election or to force us to call the election off."

Syria's state election commission said on Tuesday that turnout was 51% for the polls, but did not say which political force won.

The opposition - which boycotted the poll - described the elections as a farce.

The polls were the first held under a new constitution adopted in February, which dropped an article giving the Baath Party unique status as the "leader of the state and society" in Syria.

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