President Assad accuses US of 'destabilising' Syria

President Bashar al-Assad: "To stay in this position, in this situation, you must have support"

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the US is trying to destabilise Syria by providing political protection for "gangs" operating in the country.

In an interview for German TV, Mr Assad also said Saudi Arabia and Qatar were arming "terrorists" in Syria.

He also accused Turkey of giving the "terrorists" logistical support.

Meanwhile, Syria's armed forces have been conducting "large-scale" manoeuvres to test their "combat readiness", Syrian state media report.

On being asked whether the US was partially responsible for the deaths of innocent Syrian civilians, Mr Assad replied: "Yes, of course."

"As long as [the US] offers support to terrorists in some way, they will be their partner," he added.

Mr Assad said the authorities in Syria had arrested "dozens" of al-Qaeda fighters from Tunisia and Libya.

He also said that he believed that the majority of Syrians supported him.

"The US are against me, the West is against me, numerous regional powers and countries are against me, if the people were also against me, then how could I still be in my position?" he asked.

When asked whether the government would negotiate with armed rebels if they would lay down their weapons, Mr Assad said: "Clearly: Yes. We have already done this and offered them an amnesty. Some of them are now living totally normal lives, with no problem whatsoever."

The remarks were provided by German broadcaster ARD ahead of the transmission of the interview later on Sunday.

Live ammunition

The exercises showed Syria was able "to defend [its] shores against any possible aggression", according to state-run news agency Sana.

Tensions along the border with Turkey have been raised after Syria shot down a Turkish fighter jet last month.

Syrian Defence Minister Gen Dawoud Rajha was one of several high-ranking officers attending the manoeuvres, according to a report on Syrian TV.

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (Sana) on 7 July shows naval Syrian vessels during an exercise at an undisclosed location Live ammunition was used during the Syrian military exercises

"Our Navy forces started to conduct an operational tactical manoeuvre with live ammunition, during which naval and coastal rockets were fired," the report added.

The exercises were part of a training plan which involves manoeuvres "carried out over several days", Sana said.

Some in the Syrian opposition have called for foreign military intervention to unseat Mr Assad's government.

Last week Turkey scrambled six F-16 fighter jets near its border with Syria after Syrian helicopters came close to the border.

Also last week, Turkey said it had begun deploying rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns along the border in response to the downing of its F-4 Phantom jet on 22 June.

Syria said the Turkish F-4 was shot down by air defence fire inside its airspace.

Meanwhile, violence continued in Syria on Sunday with 11 people reported dead, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), a network of activists inside Syria.

Three of the dead were soldiers who had defected, the LCC said.

Over 15,000 people are thought to have been killed since the start of the anti-government uprising more than a year ago.

Annan talks

UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has arrived in Damascus.

Mr Annan will hold talks with President Bashar al-Assad, his office said.

On Saturday Mr Annan said his six-point peace plan for Syria had so far "failed", in comments to French newspaper Le Monde.

Recent diplomatic moves by world powers to try and reach agreement on Syria have also not resulted in fresh action.

Earlier this week, a group of more than 100 countries known as the Friends of Syria called on the UN Security Council to adopt Mr Annan's six point plan under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which would allow for further sanctions.

However, Russia and China, both of whom hold vetoes at the Council, were not at the meeting and have refused to call for Mr Assad's departure - a key demand of many in the Syrian opposition.

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