Assad wants ‘every inch’ of Syria, not just Raqqa
PARIS // President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday said his goal is to take back not only Raqqa but “every inch” of Syrian territory.
“Raqqa is a symbol,” Mr Assad said. It was “the duty of any government” to retake all of Syria, he added.
“Everywhere is a priority depending on the development of the battle. You have ISIL close to Damascus, you have them everywhere,” he said. “They are in Palmyra now and in the eastern part of Syria. For us it is all the same, Raqqa, Palmyra, Idlib – it’s all the same.”
After a string of major losses, ISIL’s two main strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa are both under attack from forces backed by a US-led coalition. An Arab-Kurd alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces, has started an advance on Raqqa.
Mr Assad denied that his government uses torture and repeated his rejection of allegations by Amnesty International of killings and violence perpetrated on prisoners at a complex near Damascus.
He called the Amnesty report “childish” with “not a single fact (or) evidence” to support allegations that about 13,000 people were hanged at the Saydnaya prison between 2011 and 2015.
“They said they interviewed few witnesses, who are opposition and defected. So it’s biased,” the president said.
Regarding torture, he said, “We don’t do this, it’s not our policy. Torture for what? ... For sadism? ... to get information? We have all the information.
“If we commit such atrocities it’s going to play into the hands of the terrorists, they’re going to win,” he said. “It’s about winning the hearts of the Syrian people, if we commit such atrocities ... we wouldn’t have (popular) support (through) six years” of war.
Mr Assad spoke as peace talks were about to start in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
Mr Assad’s ally, Russia, has been the driving force behind those with support from Iran and Turkey, despite the latter backing Syrian rebels.
Meanwhile, the West has become “passive”, Mr Assad said, and had twice lost their chance of achieving anything in Geneva – for which he blamed the US-led coalition for supporting what he called “terrorists” opposed to the Syrian government.
A fifth round of talks on Syria is set to take place in Geneva next week after two postponements.
“They did not want to achieve peace in Syria,” he said.
Surprisingly, he also appeared to back US president Donald Trump’s efforts to ban Syrian nationals from entering the United States were, saying the measure was aimed at keeping terrorists out and not Syrian people in general.
“It’s against the terrorists that would infiltrate some of the immigrants to the West. And that happened. It happened in Europe, mainly in Germany,” Mr Assad said. But on the topic of recent attacks carried out by extremists in France, he asserted they were “not necessarily prepared” in ISIL’s Syrian stronghold.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: February 17, 2017 04:00 AM