BEIRUT -- Syrian President Bashar Assad says the tide of battle in his war-ravaged nation is turning in the government's favor, even as violence continues to rage and the uprising against his rule enters its 18th month.
"We are moving forward; the situation is improving," Assad declared in an interview with Syria's Addounia TV, a privately owned station that is fiercely pro-government.
Authorities need more time to win the battle, Assad said in his first televised interview since escalating rebel attacks that began last month in Syria's two major cities appeared to put government forces on the defensive.
Excerpts of the interview were released early Wednesday; the full session was expected to be aired later in the day.
It was not clear when the interview was taped. But Assad himself said the discussion took place inside the presidential palace -- a point that seemed aimed at quashing persistent rumors that he has been hiding out away from the capital, where the sound of gunfire and rumble of artillery have become routine.
"I am here with you in Damascus, in the presidential palace," he told the Addounia interviewer.
Assad dismissed as "not practical" a proposal from officials in neighboring Turkey that a buffer zone be set up inside Syrian territory to handle ever-growing numbers of refugees fleeing the fighting. The U.N. Security Council is expected to discuss Turkey's suggestion and Syria's growing humanitarian crisis on Thursday.
As many as 5,000 Syrian refugees a day have been streaming into Turkey, a tenfold increase compared with a few weeks ago, the U.N. reported this week. Turkey is seeking more international help to cope with the influx.
In the interview, Assad asked people to encourage wavering rebels to return to the government fold; on other occasions he has vowed to crush armed resistance, which he blames on foreign agitators.
"The fate of Syria is in the hands of the Syrian people," he said.
A TV promotion quoted the president labeling the conflict "a fight of wills."
Assad spoke as Syrian forces, relying heavily on air power and artillery, appeared to be having some success at thwarting rebel efforts to consolidate territorial gains. In Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, the military says its forces have pushed back "terrorists," the government’s term for armed opponents.
State-run media said Wednesday that authorities had repelled a "terrorist" assault on a strategic military air base outside the northern town of Taftanaz, between Aleppo and Idlib. The opposition says several military helicopters were destroyed in the attack, but that could not be confirmed.
On Tuesday, state media reported that a car bomb had killed at least 12 and wounded 48 at a funeral in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, the latest such incident in the capital. An opposition group said the funeral was for two "pro-regime civilians" killed the previous day.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Syrian military helicopters had dropped thousands of leaflets over Damascus and its suburbs urging rebels to hand over their weapons or face "inevitable death."
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-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Syrian President Bashar Assad in an interview on pro-government Addounia TV in Damascus on Wednesday. Credit: Addounia TV / AFP/Getty Images