Assad vows to retake whole country, warns could 'take long time'
- (SYRIAN PRESIDENCY/AFP/File)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to regain control of the entire country but warned it could "take a long time," in an exclusive AFP interview.
Speaking Thursday in Damascus, Assad said his armed forces would try to retake all of Syria "without any hesitation," but that the involvement of regional players "means that the solution will take a long time and will incur a heavy price."
Assad said it would be possible to "put an end to this problem in less than a year" if opposition supply routes from Turkey, Jordan and Iraq were cut.
He rejected the UN's recent accusations that his regime is guilty of war crimes, calling the claims "politicized."
The United Nations has lambasted Assad's government for "exterminating" prisoners in its jails and detention centers, but Assad said that the accusations "serve a political agenda... and do not provide any evidence."
Asked about the offensive on Aleppo, Assad said that the main goal of Syria's armed forces in the northern province of Aleppo is to cut off access to the Turkish border.
"The main battle is about cutting the road between Aleppo and Turkey, for Turkey is the main conduit of supplies for the terrorists," he said in the interview.
He further blamed the refugee crisis on Europe, saying that Europe is a "direct cause" of Syrians fleeing their homeland and must stop "giving cover to terrorists" before people return.
He called on European governments "which have been a direct cause for the emigration of these people... to help in making Syrians return to their country."
Assad singled out France and warned that the French government must change its "destructive policies" in support of extremists.
France has implemented "destructive policies extending direct support to terrorism... It is France's duty to reverse or change its policies," Assad said.
Assad has said he supports negotiations to end his country's conflict, but insisted he would not stop fighting "terrorism."
"We have fully believed in negotiations... however, if we negotiate, it does not mean that we stop fighting terrorism. The two tracks are inevitable in Syria," Assad said in the interview.
Assad's comments came a day before world powers on Friday agreed an ambitious plan to cease hostilities in war-racked Syria within a week and dramatically ramp up humanitarian access at talks in Munich aimed at ending the five-year war.
Iran treats more than 1,500 Shiites injured fighting for Assad
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) Hospital in Tehran, has received more than 1,500 wounded members of the Guard, and Shiite militias of Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, who have been injured during battles against the opposition in Syria, the Arabic news site Al Arabiya reported.
According to Al Arabiya, hospital director Ali Reza Jalali put the number of wounded at 425 from the IRG, and 1079, from non-Iranian militias, for a total of 1,504 wounded.
Iranian sources said that the death toll from the Revolutionary Guard has risen to more than 42 people each week, since the start of the offensive on the countryside north of Aleppo.
Shiite-dominated Iran is a staunch ally of President Bashar al-Assad, sending financial assistance, Guards forces and military advisers to aid him against Sunni Muslim rebels seeking his overthrow, but denies having boots on the ground.
Tehran provides military advisers to Assad's army, as well as organizing Iranian, Afghan, Iraqi and Pakistani "volunteers" to fight rebels in Syria.
A report last December in Bloomberg, estimated the number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops currently fighting in Syria is around 700, a drop of over 1,000 from previous estimates.
The report said that Iran had begun withdrawing its ground troops from Syria amid a significant reduction in Iranian presence in Syrian combat zones, according to US and other Western officials.
According to Bloomberg, US officials believe the pullout is due to the high casualty rates suffered by the Iranians, including the reported injuries suffered by Qassem Suleimani, the Guard's elite Quds Force commander.
(Staff with AFP)
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