An attack on Syria might adversely affect the entire region and help extremists, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an exclusive interview with the French Daily Le Figaro on Monday.
"The Middle East is a powder keg and the flame is approaching it today," Assad told the paper.
Asked about how Syria would respond if attacked, he rhetorically asked, "Why is it that all we talk about is the Syrian response? No one knows how stable the area would be after the attack on Syria; everyone will lose control of the situation when the powder keg explodes; chaos and radicalism will spread; the risk of a regional war exists."
Assad would not confirm his regime had chemical weapons, but stressed that the Aug. 21 chemical attack that left hundreds dead was not perpetrated by his regime. "Let's say our military wanted to use weapons of mass destruction. Would it make sense to do so where there are troops present, where there are soldiers who, according to U.N. inspectors who visited them in the hospital, had already been hurt by such weaponry? Where is the logic in all of this?"
Assad warned Paris that if taking an active role in attacking Syria would have "negative repercussions on France's interests in the Middle East; anyone who supports terrorists economically or militarily is an enemy of the Syrian people; if the French government is hostile to the Syrian people, France would obviously turn into our enemy."
Meanwhile, a security official in Damascus said Monday the Syrian military would stay on high alert despite the limbo status of the potential strike. According to reports in the Arab media, the Syrian army continues to relocate some of its command centers to civilian facilities under the assumption that such sites would not be attacked. These include schools, universities and hospitals. According to some outlets, the Syrian regime has installed rebel prisoners as human shields, whom the regime plans to display as innocent victims if a strike materializes.
At an emergency meeting in Cairo Sunday, the Arab League called on the United Nations and the international community to take "deterrent" measures under international law to stop the Syrian regime's actions, but could not agree on whether to back U.S. military action. In their closing statement, the Arab foreign ministers held the Assad regime responsible for the "heinous" chemical attack in late August, saying the perpetrators should be tried before an international court "like other war criminals."
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the Syrian regime crossed all the red lines by using chemical weapons.
"The international community must stop the aggression toward the Syrian people before they are annihilated; it is not enough to issue condemnations," he said, adding that those who want the international community to hold its fire "only encourage the regime to perpetrate crimes."