The official Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, claimed that President Bashar al-Assad is in Damascus on Thursday, contradicting other reports that he had fled with his family to the coastal city of Latakia.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has sent a clear message to UN peace envoy Kofi Annan by saying he is not interested in a foreign solution to end the Syrian conflict.

The president, who is facing fown a 16-month uprising against his rule in Syria, made his position clear on Iranian state TV.

Instead of considering the possibility of setting up a transitional government that would include representatives of his government and opposition groups, Assad said he was focused on his duty to "eliminate terrorists" to protect Syrians.

"The real issue is maintaining national unity in the country," he said.

"We need to overcome the internal differences and disagreements. Internal conflict can create disagreements with youth but this is an internal issue that has nothing to do with foreign powers."

The TV interview came at a time of escalating tensions between Syria and its neighbour Turkey after Assad's forces shot down a Turkey military jet.

Turkey retaliated by sending a convoy of about 30 armoured vehicles, some containing rocket launchers, along the border with Syria.

Turkey warned

In the hour-long interview Assad remained defiant and blamed Turkey for contributing to Syria's instability.

"In regards to the Turkish government and the Turkish nation, if we view them differently we will be forced to change our political policies towards them," he said.

"The politics of Turkish officials is leading towards the death and bloodshed of Syrians. We cannot act in a similar way.

"We cannot say that a few months ago Turkey was an ally and a few months later release bombs and bullets against them," he added.

Assad's comments came ahead of an international meeting called by Kofi Annan on 30 June in Geneva.

The joint UN-Arab League peace envoy invited the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Turkey, Iraq and Qatar, to the "Action Group" meeting. Iran, which along with Saudi Arabia was not invited to take part in the Geneva talks, said it was disappointed by the snub.

It is expected Annan will use the meeting to discuss his plan for a unity government in Syria. Tensions however already arisen after reports that Russia opposes the wording of the transition plan emerged.