BEIRUT — President Bashar Assad warned the fall of his regime or the breakup of Syria will unleash a "domino effect" that will fuel Middle East instability for years to come, in his sharpest warning yet about the potential fallout of his country's civil war on neighboring states.
In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin said the Syrian conflict has become "a massacre" that must be stopped through peace talks, and repeated the Kremlin's firm rejection of calls for Assad's ouster.
Speaking in an interview broadcast Friday, Assad accused his neighbors of stoking the revolt against his rule and warned they would eventually pay a price.
"We are surrounded by countries that help terrorists and allow them to enter Syria," he told the Turkish TV station Ulusal Kanal.
"Everybody knows that if the disturbances in Syria reach the point of the country's breakup, or terrorist forces control Syria ... then this will immediately spill over into neighboring countries and there will be a domino effect that will reach countries across the Middle East," he said.
The Syrian regime is under growing pressure from an increasingly effective rebel force that has managed to pry away much of northern Syria and is making significant headway in the south, capturing military bases and territory that could offer rebels a staging ground to attack the capital, Damascus.
The rebel gains coincide with what Western and Arab officials say are U.S.-backed training of opposition fighters in Jordan and an influx of foreign-funded weapons into the south. The rebel advances have given the opposition momentum and put the government on the defensive in the 2-year-old conflict that the U.N. estimates has killed more than 70,000 people.
Assad also lashed out at Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was a close ally before the crisis began but has turned into one of his harshest critics.