Assad rejects US allegations of chemical attack in Syria

Assad rejects US allegations of chemical attack in Syria

DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has denied ordering last week's suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town, believes his victory is inevitable in the six-year-old war ravaging his country.

Bolstered by the steady support of Russia and Iran, Assad has appeared unfazed by Western threats to his regime -- even after one of his airbases was hit last week by a barrage of American cruise missiles.

The suffering of Syria's people "is the only thing that could deprive me from sleep from time to time, but not the Western statements and not the threat of the support of the terrorists," he told AFP on Wednesday.

Dressed in a sharp suit, he looks more like a senior civil servant or bank manager than the autocratic leader of a country at war.

But Assad remains determined to emerge from the Syrian conflict a victor.

"It has always been a struggle for life and death. There was no question of stopping this war. It was either win or lose," said Nikolaos van Dam, a former Dutch ambassador and Syria expert.

The 51-year-old former ophthalmologist's life changed radically when his brother Bassel, groomed to inherit power from their father, Hafez, was killed in a road accident in 1994.

Assad had to leave London, where he had met his wife Asma, a British-Syrian and Sunni Muslim who worked for financial services firm J.P. Morgan.

The Assad clan hails from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, in a country with a large Sunni majority.

Assad was tutored in politics by his father, who ruled Syria with an iron fist from 1971 until his death in 2000.

"The regime has half a century of experience of how to stay in power. It has the support of the army and security services," van Dam said.

Assad has two sons and a daughter, and says he still lives in his Damascus home, drives the children to school and goes to work in his downtown office.