MUKHTARA, Lebanon World powers are abandoning Syria to be "systematically destroyed" by a civil war which has already wrecked whole cities in a once-great Arab nation, Lebanon's Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said.
Accusing them of "indifference or conspiracy", Jumblatt said none of the international players, which are deeply divided over the 21-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, had shown any urgency to stem the bloodshed.
Jumblatt has called for foreign states to do more to help rebels defeat Assad swiftly and avoid the partition of Syria, home to majority Sunni Muslims as well as minorities including Assad's Alawites, Christians, Kurds, Shi'ites and Druze.
"It is obvious that because of a conflict of interests between big powers, Syria is being left to be systematically destroyed," he said in a weekend interview at his Ottoman-era mansion in Mukhtara, in the mountains south of Beirut.
"The more time passes, the more the civil war will be increasingly violent and the Syrian people will suffer more casualties and more suffering."
Jumblatt, 63, who has led Lebanon's most prominent Druze family since his father's assassination in 1977, was once an ally of Assad and his late father, President Hafez al-Assad, but has changed allegiances several times, manoeuvring to maximise his small Druze minority's influence in Lebanese politics.
The United Nations said last week more than 60,000 people had been killed in Syria since the start of the uprising against Assad, the longest and bloodiest of the rebellions which have swept the Arab world in the last two years.
The uprising has polarised the Middle East along sectarian lines, with Sunni leaders in Turkey and some Gulf Arab states backing the mainly Sunni rebels, and Shi'ite Iran and Hezbollah backing Assad, whose Alawite faith is an offshoot of Shi'ism.
It has also brought deadlock to the United Nations Security Council, where Western draft resolutions condemning Assad's crackdown on protests were blocked by Russia and China.
Jumblatt blamed "indifference or the conspiracy of the big powers" for the bloodletting, and said any eventual accord to end the violence would be reached over "the remains of Syria", which he described as a once-pivotal power in the region.
"IN TOTAL DENIAL"
The Druze chief's Progressive Socialist Party is part of a Lebanese government dominated by pro-Assad groups including Hezbollah.
But Jumblatt himself has pressed the Druze of Syria to join the revolt against Assad, although so far, they and members of other minorities have been reluctant to do so, fearing that a post-Assad Syria could be dominated by radical Islamists.
"I am telling them: your future is with the free Syrian people. I can do no more," he said. "We have 20 Druze Syrian officers fighting with the rebels, which is good."
Syria's Druze are concentrated in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and southern Sweida province, where limited fighting broke out last month between them and Sunnis from neighbouring Deraa, cradle of the revolt.
Both sides carried out kidnappings and killings, prompting the leader of Syria's opposition coalition to call for calm.
"I am an Arab before being a Druze," said Jumblatt, whose faith is rooted in Islam but influenced by ancient Greek and Indian philosophy, including a belief in reincarnation.
A tall stooping figure, he said Assad's speech on Sunday showed that the Syrian leader was "in a state of total denial".
"He repeated the same story that he made in June 2011," he said, referring to promises of reform and another referendum on a new constitution, less than a year after Syrians voted on a constitution which as billed as heralding multi-party politics.
"Nothing has changed, except that at that time the casualties were around 2,000 and now we are around 60,000. At that time most of the people of Syria were living in their homes, protesting peacefully.
"Now he (Assad) has destroyed entire cities and villages."
At the same time, Assad's speech was a rejection of international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's peace plan for a negotiated solution to Syria's crisis involving the creation of a transitional government with the power to rule, Jumblatt said.
"He is saying 'Go to hell, I am still here'."
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)