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Assad insists he will not quit, car bomb hits Damascus

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad insisted he will not resign before the end of his mandate in 2014 as a car bomb exploded in the capital Damascus on Saturday killing at least three people.

"To resign would be to flee," Assad said in an interview with the Argentine newspaper Clarin when asked if he would consider stepping aside as called for by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"I don't know if Kerry or anyone else has received the power of the Syrian people to talk in their name about who should go and who should stay. That will be determined by the Syrian people in the 2014 presidential elections."

He nevertheless said he welcome a US-Russian peace initiative to end Syria's two-year civil war.

The United States and Russia are trying to convene a peace conference in Geneva that would bring together members of the regime and the rebels fighting to oust Assad.

"We have received the Russian-US approach well and we hope that there will be an international conference to help Syrians overcome the crisis," Clarin quoted Assad as saying.

He added, however, that "we do not believe that many Western countries really want a solution in Syria. And we don't think that the forces that support the terrorists want a solution to the crisis."

Syria calls the rebels who have been fighting to overthrow the regime "terrorists"

Saturday evening state television accused "terrorists" of detonating a car bomb in a north Damascus neighbourhood, saying it killed at least three people and wounded five others.

The state broadcaster said the bomb was placed in a car in the Rokn Eddin neighbourhood and that a disposal team was sent in to defuse another device.

"The terrorist explosion was the result of a big bomb concealed in a car ... Three people were killed and five others wounded according to a provisional toll," it said.

Television said the blast took place in a car park near a school and a mosque.

It broadcast footage of a rescuers bagging charred bodies, pools of blood, the twisted remains of a car and a damaged passenger bus, as armed troops stood in the background.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the bombing but gave a higher toll of eight dead and 10 wounded.

A statement said the bombing targeted "the cars of government forces, killing four regular troops and four civilians."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing.

It came after officials and the Observatory reported that gunmen on Saturday kidnapped the elderly father of deputy foreign minister Faisal Muqdad, a key government figure, apparently in retaliation for the arrest of relatives of one of their comrades.

A government source said the gunmen stormed into the Muqdad family home, "beat up" the 84-year-old man and fled with him to the city of Daraa, south of Damascus.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said that Muqdad's father, who was not named, was seized "in reprisal for the arrest by regime forces of relatives of one of the armed men."

Muqdad is considered one of the most powerful voices of the embattled Syrian regime.

Elsewhere rebels seized four deserted Alawite villages in the central province of Hama, the Observatory reported.

"Late on Friday night, the rebels took complete control of Tlaissiyeh, Zoghbe, Shaata and Balil, after the withdrawal of the army following several weeks of fighting," the Observatory said.

Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while the rebels are predominantly Sunni Muslims, like most Syrians.

In the interview with Clarin and the Argentine news agency Telam, Assad spoke at length and also denied that his government has used chemical weapons against civilians.

"The accusations against Syria regarding the use of chemical weapons or my resignation change every day. And it is likely that this is used as a prelude to a war against our country," he said.

The use of chemical weapons "would mean the death of thousands or tens of thousands of people in a matter of minutes. Who could hide something like that?" he asked Telam.

He nevertheless acknowledged that "thousands of Syrians have died" in the conflict that broke out in March 2011 as a peaceful uprising against the regime before turning into a full-fledged war.

The Observatory says that more than 94,000 people have now been killed in Syria.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130518/assad-insists-he-will-not-quit-car-bomb-hits-damascus