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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Direct US-Russia clash in Syria was narrowly avoided, Assad says

The Syrian president said that his forces will recover areas held by the SDF one way or another

A photo made available by Syria's state news agency (SANA) shows Syrian President Bashar Al Assad (L) giving an interview to Russian TV channel RT in Damascus, Syria, on May 30, 2018. EPA
A photo made available by Syria's state news agency (SANA) shows Syrian President Bashar Al Assad (L) giving an interview to Russian TV channel RT in Damascus, Syria, on May 30, 2018. EPA

Direct conflict between the US and Russia in Syria was narrowly avoided, said Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

"We were close to have direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces," Mr Assad said in an interview with Russia Today broadcast on Thursday.

"Fortunately, it has been avoided, not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership."

A US-led wave of Western missile strikes on Syrian government targets across the country last month raised fears of a Russian response and full-blown internationalisation of the seven-year-old conflict.

Mr Assad also said that his forces – with whom Russia is allied – will recover areas held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), adding that US forces should learn the lesson of Iraq and leave the country.

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Mr Assad said that the government “has started now opening doors of negotiations” with the SDF, a Kurdish-dominated militia alliance that controls parts of northern and eastern Syria where US forces are stationed.

“This is the first option. If not, we're going to resort to … liberating those areas by force," he said, adding: "The Americans should leave, somehow they're going to leave”.

"They came to Iraq with no legal basis, and look what happened to them. They have to learn the lesson. Iraq is no exception, and Syria is no exception. People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore."

Mr Assad responded to US President Donald Trump’s description of him as “Animal Assad”, saying that “what you say is what you are”. Mr Trump called the Syrian president an animal after a poison gas attack on Eastern Ghouta's Douma, a rebel-held town near Damascus, in April.

Mr Assad denied that his government carried out the attack, saying that his regime does not have chemical weapons and it would not have been in its interest to carry out such a strike. It was the Douma attack that triggered strikes on Syria by the US, UK and France last month.

He also said that there were no Iranian troops in Syria despite reports that a number of non-Syrian fighters have been killed over the years. Mr Assad said that there were only Iranian officers in the country who work with the Syrian army.