I need more time to win, says Assad

Syria's president Bashar Assad has said he needs more time to win the country's civil war.

The remark, in a TV interview, is a sign Assad's regime may be preparing for a drawn out struggle against rebels on a multitude of fronts, including Damascus, the capital and Assad's seat of power, Aleppo, the nation's largest city, and a string of other cities and towns.

The comments also appeared to reinforce Assad's remarks to a visiting Iranian official over the weekend that his regime would continue the fight against the rebels "whatever the price."

"We are fighting a regional and global war, so time is needed to win it," he told privately owned Dunya television, which is majority owned by Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Assad and one of Syria's wealthiest men.

"I can sum up all this explanation in one sentence: We are moving forward. The situation is practically better but it has not been decided yet. That takes time."

Confident and relaxed, Assad paid tribute to the Syrian people, saying they stood steadfastly behind him and his armed forces, and criticised the leaders of onetime ally Turkey, saying some of them were "ignorant."

Syrian officials routinely cite neighbouring Turkey, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as among the rebels' main supporters, providing them with money and weapons.

Assad responded with a laugh when told by the interviewer that rumours about his whereabouts often made the rounds among Syrians. "I am here with you in the studio in Damascus," he said.

The rebels are fighting to overthrow Assad, who came to office in 2000 after succeeding his father, the late Hafez Assad who ruled Syria with an iron fist for some 30 years. The Syrian conflict has its roots in a wave of mostly peaceful protests that began last year but later morphed into a civil war.

At least 20,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict, according to anti-regime rights activists.