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Syria President: Campaign against 'terror' must succeed

Published:Sunday | October 4, 2015 | 12:00 AM

 DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syria's President Bashar Assad said in an interview aired Sunday the air campaign by Russia against "terrorists" in his country must succeed or the whole region will be destroyed. He also accused Western nations of fuelling the refugee crisis.

Assad was speaking in an interview with Iran's Khabar TV, his first comments since Russia launched its air campaign against multiple groups in Syria Wednesday.

Assad blasted Western countries, accusing them of fuelling terrorism by supporting rebel groups, and ultimately the refugee crisis.

"In reality, they are the biggest contributor for reaching this stage by supporting terrorism and imposing a siege on Syria," he said, in reference to Western countries. "They attack terrorism but they are terrorists in their policies either by imposing the siege of by supporting the terrorists."

Over a half million people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, more than double the figure for all of 2014, most of whom are Syrians.

European countries have grappled with the crisis, described as the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Syria's war is entering its fifth year, with at least 250,000 people killed and half of the pre-war population on the move- 4 million refugees and 8 million internally displaced.

Assad has accused Western countries, neighbouring Turkey and the Gulf states of fuelling the war by supporting the armed opposition, all of which he calls terrorists. Militant groups the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, are among the strongest groups operating in Syria. But there are dozens of other rebel groups, some western-backed and armed, fighting against Assad and the IS.

Russia said it is launching its campaign to target IS and other terrorists groups, but some of the targets so far have included Western-backed groups.

On Sunday, the fifth day of the air campaign, Russia said its warplanes had carried out 20 missions in the past day, attacking Islamic State positions in the northwestern province of Idlib. The province is controlled by a rebel coalition known as Jaish al-Fatah, which includes the Nusra Front, but not IS. The statement also said the warplanes attacked a training camp in Raqqa province, which is controlled by the Islamic State group.

Activists reported raids on Sunday in the central province of Homs, where at least two children and a shepherd were killed in the town of Talbiseh and nearby areas. A video posted on an activist media platform posted showed panicked residents fleeing.

In the interview, Assad said the Russian campaign has the potential to succeed because it is supported by Iran and has international, if not Western, support. He called on countries that support the armed opposition to stop, which would increase the chances of the campaign to succeed.

"It must succeed or we are facing the destruction of a whole region, and not a country or two," he said. "The chances for success are large, not small."

He said that the West's failure to achieve its goals in Syria has forced them to change their positions regarding a political settlement that includes him.

He said it is up to the Syrian people to decide who rules the country and under what political system, not foreign leaders.

"What is for certain is that the Western officials are lost, lack clarity of vision and are feeling the failure of their plots (toward Syria)," he said. "The only goal that was realised ... is the destruction of much infrastructure in Syria, shedding lots of blood."

Now, the Western governments are paying the price of their failed policy in Syria, he said, because terrorism has been exported to them as well as a huge influx of refugees.

Assad has in recent months suffered a series of setback on the ground, conceding that his army has had to relinquish some areas in the north to be able to better defend core areas seen as more critical to the government. Some say Russia's campaign is essentially a mission to prop up the embattled president.