Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem vowed Tuesday that Syria will defend itself against any foreign strikes. (Louai Beshara / AFP)
DAMASCUS — Syria vowed Tuesday that it will fight off any Western military strikes with what it called “surprise” defenses, while raising the specter of Islamists benefiting from such intervention.
“We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal. The second choice is the best; we will defend ourselves,” said Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.
He was speaking at a news conference as the United States and its allies edged closer to launching strikes against the Syrian regime amid accusations it used chemical weapons against its own people.
Muallem said the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which has been fighting an insurgency for the past 29 months, had defenses that would “surprise” the world.
“Syria is not an easy case. We have defenses which will surprise others,” he said in Damascus.
Russian news agency Interfax said Tuesday that the Damascus government had enough air defense systems to rebuff attacks.
“If the US Army together with NATO launch an operation against Syria, there won’t be an easy victory,” the agency quoted a military-diplomatic source as saying.
The Syrian minister said he was confident that Russia, a key ally of the Assad regime, would not abandon Damascus.
“I can assure you that Russia has not abandoned Syria. Our relations continue in all fields, and we thank Russia for its support,” Muallem told reporters.
Muallem also charged that strikes would benefit Israeli and jihadist groups in the Middle East.
“The war effort led by the United States and their allies will serve the interests of Israel and secondly Al-Nusra Front,” an Al-Qaida-linked jihadist group in Syria, said Muallem.
He challenged Western states to present evidence that the Assad regime used chemical weapons.
“We are hearing war drums around us. If they want to launch an attack against Syria, I think using the excuse of chemical weapons is not true at all. I challenge them to show what proof they have,” Muallem said.
The minister also said foreign military intervention in the country would not stop the government’s campaign against rebels.
“If they think they can stop the victory of our armed forces like that, they are wrong,” he stressed.
The intensifying Western moves to take military action came as a team of UN arms experts collected evidence from the site of the alleged chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21, which reportedly killed more than 300 people.
The inspectors had been due to visit the sites again Tuesday, but Muallem said their trip had been postponed for a day because rebels failed to guarantee their security.
“Today, we were surprised by the fact that they were not able to get there because the rebels did not agree to guarantee the mission’s security. So the mission has been delayed until tomorrow,” said Muallem.
The group was originally due to leave Syria on Sunday, but its stay could be extended as team members investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people.