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Assad says rebels will not win
Syrian President calls for dialogue with the rebels who are still fighting against his government.
CAIRO - President Bashar al-Assad said Syrian rebels would not be victorious in their fight against his government although the "door to dialogue remains open".
In comments to the Egyptian weekly magazine Al-Ahram Al-Araby, to be published on Friday, Assad said "the armed groups exercise terrorism against the state. They are not popular within society ... they will not be victorious in the end".
At least 54 people were killed when an air strike hit a fuel station in Syria's northern province of al-Raqqa on Thursday. Activists say more than 27,000 people have been killed in the 18-month-old conflict.
Speaking from his office in the heart of Damascus, Assad said "change cannot be achieved through foreign intervention".
"Both sides of the equation are equal and political dialogue is the only solution. Violence, however, is not allowed ... and the state will not stand with its hands tied in the face of those who bear arms against it," Assad was quoted as saying.
International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi met Assad on Saturday in his first visit to Damascus as peace envoy. Brahimi said his visit confirmed that the situation was "extremely dangerous and escalating".
Assad said he was neither optimistic nor pessimistic about Brahimi's mission.
"I welcome dialogue with the national opposition but those who choose arms have put themselves in confrontation with the Syrian Arab army," said Assad, who admitted there was corruption and mistakes had been made.
Assad's rule structure draws mainly on his Alawite minority sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, while the opposition is largely from the Sunni Muslim majority, enjoying the support of Sunni leaders who rule nearly all Arab states.
That has raised fears that the 18-month-old conflict could spread across the wider Middle East, where a sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shi'ites has been at the root of violence in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and elsewhere.