Bashar al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (Reuters) Reuters

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has poured scorn on the UK and David Cameron over the ongoing conflict in Syria.

In a rare interview, with the UK's Sunday Times, Assad accused Britain of playing an "unconstructive role" in Syria.

Referring to the arming of rebels, Assad, who is facing an uprising that has lasted nearly two years, said the UK government led by Cameron is "naive, confused, and unrealistic".

The UK extends support to the Syrian rebels but has made it clear that the opposition groups will not be provided with arms. Britain has been lobbying for an EU ban on arms sales to the rebels to be lifted.

Foreign Secretary William Hague, who was in Rome for the Friends of Syria talks, did not rule out the possibility of arming the rebels in the future.

Assad accused Britain of being historically at odds with Syria. "We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter. To be frank, Britain has played a famously unconstructive role in our region on different issues for decades, some say for centuries. The problem with this government is that their shallow and immature rhetoric only highlights this tradition of bullying and hegemony," Assad said.

He went on: "How can we expect to ask Britain to play a role when it is determined to militarise the problem?"

He reiterated that he would not step down as president and offered conditional talks with the opposition groups.

The uprising has so far claimed 70,000 lives and pushed hundreds of thousands of Syrians to neighbouring countries as refugees.

Stepping up his attack on Britain, Assad said: "How can you ask them to play a role in making the situation better, more stable? How can we expect them to make the violence less while they want to send military supplies to the terrorists and don't try to ease the dialogue between the Syrian(s)?"

Responding to the Israeli air attack on Damascus, Assad hinted at retaliation. "We retaliated in our own way, and only the Israelis know what we mean. Retaliation does not mean missile for missile or bullet for bullet. Our own way does not have to be announced."