By Mariam Karouny
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Sunday unrest sweeping the country had become more militant but he was confident it could be controlled and warned that any military action against his nation would backfire.
Assad faces Western calls to step down over his harsh crackdown on five months of protests in which the United Nations says around 2,000 civilians have died, but he said Syria would not accept outside interference.
"As for the threat of a military action ... any action against Syria will have greater consequences (on those who carry it out), greater than they can tolerate," he said in an interview broadcast on Syrian television.
"First, because of Syria's geopolitical location and second (because of) Syrian capabilities. They know part of it but they do not know the other parts and they will not be able to afford the results," he said.
Syria, which borders Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, has regional influence because of its alliance with Iran and its role in Lebanon, despite ending a 29-year military presence there in 2005. It also has an influence in Iraq and supports militant groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.
No country has yet proposed the kind of action against Syria which NATO forces have carried out in support of Libyan rebels seeking to topple Muammar Gaddafi.
But the United States and Europe called on Assad last week to step down and Washington imposed new sanctions, including freezing Syrian state assets and prohibiting imports of Syrian
Syria might take advice from countries in the region, "but we do not allow any country to interfere in our decision," Assad said.
Assad's government has blamed armed groups for the violence and has said more than 500 soldiers and police have died since the unrest erupted in March.
"As for the security situation (it) has become more militant in the recent weeks," Assad said. "We are capable of dealing with it... I am not worried."
State news agency SANA said on Sunday five soldiers killed by gunmen in Homs and the southern province of Deraa were buried on Sunday.
Assad said he expected a parliamentary election to be held in February after a series of reforms that would let political groups other than his Baath party take part.
"The expected time for having the parliamentary election is February 2012," he said.
Activists dismiss his promised political reforms and many opposition figures have rejected his call for a national dialogue, saying there can be no discussion while security forces continue to kill protesters.
Assad sent tanks and troops into some of Syria's biggest cities to crush dissent during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started on August 1.
Activists said dozens of people were arrested on Sunday during raids in northern Idlib province, while military and security forces stormed the Khaldieh neighbourhood of Homs.
On Friday, Assad's forces killed 34 people, including four children, in Homs and Deraa, where the popular revolt began in March, as well as in suburbs of Damascus and the ancient desert town of Palmyra, activists said.
Syria has expelled most independent media since the unrest began, making it difficult to verify events on the ground.
U.N. TEAM IN SYRIA
A U.N. team arrived in Syria on Saturday to assess humanitarian needs in the country, a U.N. official said. The United Nations has sought access for the team since May.
"We welcome the fact that the government has approved the humanitarian mission," said the official.
The team will "assess the humanitarian situation and condition of basic social services and identify initial assistance needs that could be addressed through a rapid response," she added.
She did not say which parts of the country the team would visit, but said the mission would continue until Thursday.
Assad, from the minority Alawite sect in the mostly Sunni Muslim nation, told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that all military and police operations had ceased, but activists say dozens of protesters have been killed since then.
Encouraged by the growing global pressure on Assad, the Syrian opposition in exile which has been meeting in Turkey said it would set up a National Council on Sunday to support the uprising and help fill any power vacuum should the protests oust the Syrian leader.
Similar initiatives in the past have failed to produce a robust umbrella group to unite the opposition, fragmented by 41 years of harsh rule by Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad.
(Additional reporting Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)