“We must be in the position of defending Syria’s existence,” he added. “We are not in a battle for the survival of an individual or a regime.”
Rebels battling the government have insisted that Assad must cede power, or die, and it is unclear whether they would be receptive to the overture. But Al-Sharaa’s remarks were the clearest sign yet that at least some of Assad’s close associates are contemplating his leaving office, if it will end a conflict that has caused more than 40,000 deaths.
Also Sunday, the foreign ministry of Iran, Assad’s closest remaining ally, issued a new plan for ending the violence in Syria that included the strongest indication yet that that the Islamic Republic hopes to maintain relations with Syria regardless of whether or not Assad remains in power.
While Iranian officials have for months stated that they would like to see an end to the fighting, they are believed to be supplying his regime with funds and weapons. But the statement, published by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), suggested that Iran’s support of Assad is not unconditional.
Besides calling for an end to violence and the distribution of humanitarian aid, it said the Syrian government is “duty-bound to hold a free and competitive election to form a new parliament and senate to compose a constitution and hold presidential elections.”
The comments came on another day of intense fighting from the suburbs of Damascus to the northern border with Turkey. And they came as the pressure on Assad to step aside has been ramping up. Last week, a group of more than 100 nations formally recognized a Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Al-Sharaa, a former diplomat and foreign minister who has served the Assad regime for almost four decades, said in remarks translated into English on Al Akhbar’s Web site Sunday night that neither the regime nor the rebels can rule Syria.
“The opposition with its different factions, civilian, armed, or ones with external ties, cannot claim to be the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian People,” he said, “just as the current rule with its ideological army and its confrontation parties led by the Baath (Party), cannot achieve change without new partners.”
He called for a “historic settlement” that he said “must include stopping all shapes of violence, and the creation of a national unity government with wide powers.”
Refugee camp bombed
Earlier Sunday, Syrian jets dropped bombs on a decades-old Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus after days of clashes between Syrian rebels and Palestinians who support the government, opposition activists said.