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Syria's al-Assad: British leaders 'shallow, immature'

By Holly Yan, CNN
March 4, 2013 -- Updated 0057 GMT (0857 HKT)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad calls the British government
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad calls the British government "shallow and immature."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: At least 123 people killed across the country Sunday
  • Top British official calls the interview "delusional"
  • Al-Assad describes Britain as a "bullying hegemony" that can't end the Syrian crisis
  • "We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter," al-Assad says

(CNN) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad slammed British leaders as "shallow and immature" and accused the British government of trying to arm rebels seeking his ouster.

Al-Assad told The Sunday Times that the British government can't play a useful role in stopping the Syrian crisis.

"We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter," al-Assad told the newspaper.

"To be frank, Britain has played famously in our region (an) unconstructive role in different issues, for decades, some say for centuries. I'm telling you the perception in our region," he said.

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"The problem with this government (is) that they are shallow and immature. Rhetorics only highlight this tradition of a bullying hegemony."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has hurled equally harsh words toward al-Assad. Sunday was no different.

"I think this will go down as one of the most delusional interviews that any national leader has given in modern times," he told BBC in an interview.

In February, the European Union renewed its arms embargo on Syria for three months but amended it to allow greater non-lethal support and technical assistance to help protect civilians.

The shift in the arms embargo set an important precedent, Hague said.

"This is an important and welcome step forward. It shows we can change the arms embargo, and the worse the situation becomes, the more ready we will be to change it," he said earlier in a statement.

This month marks the two-year anniversary of the Syrian civil war, a conflict that has killed at least 70,000 people, according to international estimates.

Earlier this year, al-Assad outlined a plan to resolve the Syrian crisis. His plan included national dialogue and a new constitution that would be put up for a public referendum.

But there's a major caveat: Al-Assad said he refuses to deal with "terrorists," a term the government often uses to describe the opposition.

Similarly, opposition members have said they will not work directly with al-Assad's "criminal" government, nor will they accept any solution that doesn't involve al-Assad's departure.

So the deadly impasse continues.

At least 123 people were found dead across Syria on Sunday, including 38 in Damascus and its suburbs, according to the Local Coordination Committees for Syria, a network of opposition activists.

The unrest began in March 2011, when al-Assad's government began a brutal crackdown on demonstrators calling for enhanced political freedoms.

The protest movement eventually devolved into an armed conflict, one that has devastated cities and towns around the country and has already claimed nearly 70,000 lives.

Oppostion leader returns to Syria

Moaz al-Khatib, president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, appeared in a social media video posted Sunday that purports to show the opposition leader in Syria.

The YouTube video shows al-Khatib on a jam-packed street in Menbej. As Al-Khatib walks through the crowd, shopkeepers pop into their doorways to see what the commotion is about. He stops and affectionately greets several people. Dozens of smiling people take photos and videos with their cell phones.

CNN cannot independently verify when the video was shot. The people shown in it all wear winter coats or sweaters. Menbej is in a rebel-held area in northern Syria.

The opposition group said al-Khatib met with senior officials and judicial council members. He also visited a military camp for the Free Syrian Army and met with field commanders about future operations.

"He is on a tour to northern Syria to affirm his concern with Syrians inside the country and that he is in communication with all segments in the civil society and the military," a spokesman said in a written statement.

Al-Khatib is a former cleric of the historic Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and is a highly respected figure in Syria. He fled the country last year due to security concerns.

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