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Assad warns of extremist backlash

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on the Gaza conflict

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has warned that Israel's campaign against Gaza will fuel extremism and terrorism in the Arab and Muslim world.

"The effect of war is more dangerous than war... sowing seeds of extremism and terror around the region," Mr Assad said in an exclusive BBC interview.

He also said a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza could only be achieved if conditions set by both sides were met.

Officials say the fighting has killed nearly 1,000 Gazans and 13 Israelis.

Earlier, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pledged to redouble his efforts to secure a durable and sustainable ceasefire.

Speaking in Cairo, at the beginning of a visit to the region, Mr Ban said he hoped an Egyptian diplomatic initiative would show results as soon as possible.

Egyptian officials have been discussing various proposals with a Hamas delegation in Cairo.

'Sustainable' ceasefire

In an interview in Damascus with BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, President Assad said his country, which hosts several exiled Hamas leaders, was doing everything it could to bring about a truce.

[Hamas] are influential... So they have to be brought to any action, otherwise it will not succeed
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

"We have been working with many countries, primarily the French," he said, adding that Hamas had already accepted the need for a "sustainable ceasefire".

Mr Assad said that for Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets into Israel, the Israelis had to fully respect any ceasefire - which he said they failed to do in the past - and end their blockade of Gaza.

Mr Assad also argued that Israel's failure to respect past ceasefires and deliver on the peace process justified Palestinian resistance.

"We haven't achieved peace yet and the Israelis never delivered since the beginning of the peace process in 1991," he added.

"So when you don't accept the peace terms, you have to expect resistance."

He also said that for any future Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to be successful, Hamas would have to be included.

GAZA CRISIS BACKGROUND

"They are influential. That is most important. So they have to be brought to any action, otherwise it will not succeed," he added.

Mr Assad said that there was a risk of the war, or at least the "effects of the war", spreading throughout the region.

"This is like sowing the seeds of extremism around the region, in the Arab and Muslim Worlds," he said. "Desperation breeds extremism. Extremism will produce terrorism," he said.

"This is a political crisis combined with a humanitarian crisis. You have to solve them, otherwise you will sow the seeds of extremism."

The Syrian leader said he hoped President-elect Barack Obama would be "involved seriously and directly in the peace process" as soon he takes office and that he would be welcome to visit Damascus at any time to co-operate on the issue.

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