Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad © SANA / Reuters
4 Jun, 2017
As the Syrian Arab Army has advanced on most fronts and the military situation has improved, rooting out extreme Islamist ideology becomes the top priority for the region, Syrian President Bashar Assad says.
The course of the Syrian conflict, which has been tearing the country apart for more than six years, has finally changed for the better, President Assad told India-based WION TV in an exclusive interview.
“Things now are moving in the right direction which is a better direction, because we are defeating the terrorists,” Assad said.
“Unless the West and other countries and their allies, their puppets, supported those extremists in a very, how to say, massive way, I’m sure the worst is behind us.”
While pre-war Syrian society was not perfect, and Assad acknowledges “mistakes or… defects” which contributed to the conflict, a long-term insurgency would be impossible without a steady flow of foreign aid.
“If I want to be objective, we always say that if you don’t have your own, let’s say, defects in your society, in your country, the external factor would be minimal,” the president said.
“But at the end, we didn’t bring the terrorists, we didn’t support the terrorists, we didn’t support this ideology,” he argued. According to the Syrian leader, certain Western countries, including the UK and France, were the ones who endorsed the conflict in the beginning. This would hardly be possible, however, “without the permission of the United States,” Assad noted.
While the military situation in Syria has been improving gradually over recent months, “because the terrorist groups, mainly ISIS and al-Nusra and like-minded groups in Syria who are Wahhabi terrorist extremist groups, are retreating,” the most significant danger is represented by extreme Salafist ideology, the leader believes.
“The situation on the ground, from a military point of view, is much better than before. But this is not the whole picture; it’s not only about military conflict, it’s about different things, about the ideology that they try to spread in our region, which is the most dangerous challenge that we may face in the near and long term,” Assad said.
This is not the first time the Syrian Arab Republic has faced the threat of radical Islamist ideology. The scale of the threat in the ongoing conflict is, however, unprecedented, Assad says.
“We’ve been facing terrorism before Hafez al-Assad, before President al-Assad, in the 50s when the Muslim Brotherhood came to Syria, since that time, the conflicts in Syria started in a similar way, but on a different scale,” Assad said. “So, the principle of the conflict is the same; terrorism is terrorism, extremism is extremism, no matter what names you use for the organizations.”
Damascus has repeatedly said that the army, along with its local and international allies, is the only force actually fighting the terrorist insurgency in the country.
In late May, Syria sent a letter to UN demanding an immediate halt to US-led airstrikes, stating that they only lead to “chaos and destruction” which benefit the terrorists, “particularly ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.”
The letter also accused the coalition of frequently striking the “Syrian Army which is fighting terrorism,” adding that the attacks conveniently coincide with offensive operations of IS and Al-Nusra terrorists. US-led coalition activity in Syrian airspace “blatantly” contradicts international law and UN Security Council resolutions.
“Syria reiterates the importance of halting the illegal US-led coalition’s actions and implementing Security Council resolutions related to counter-terrorism, including resolution no. 2253,” the letter said, as cited by Sana state news agency.