Defiant Assad lashes out at Gulf powers as opposition leaders vanish

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Syrian president Bashar Assad has insisted his regime will not fall and lashed out at Gulf countries, which he accused of using their enormous oil wealth to try to drive him from power.

Assad’s comments came as an opposition group, the National Co-ordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, accused the regime of being behind the disappearance of two of its leaders.

Abdul-Aziz al-Kheir and Ayas Ayyash were expected to take part in a conference on Sunday in Damascus by some 20 Syrian groups that are calling for Assad to step down.

But they disappeared on Thursday with a friend who had picked them up at Damascus International Airport, the group said.

In the interview with the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, Assad said the rebels “will not succeed” and that a foreign military intervention such as the one that helped topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi will “not be repeated” in Syria.

He also launched one of his harshest attacks on Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have been among his strongest critics and backers of the opposition, saying they were trying to influence the region with their money. “They think their money can buy geography, history and a regional role,” Assad said.

“They are giving terrorists weapons and money with hope of repeating the Libyan model,” he added. “Instead of helping regional stability they are supplying armed elements with weapons and training in order to weaken the Syrian state.”

The upheaval in Syria presents an opportunity for the Gulf’s Sunni rulers to bolster their influence and possibly leave Shiite powerhouse Iran without its critical alliances that flow through Damascus.