Assad says Daesh has expanded since start of US-led strikes

Arab World Materials 30 March 2015 11:34 (UTC +04:00)
Assad says Daesh has expanded since start of US-led strikes
Assad says Daesh has expanded since start of US-led strikes

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed Daesh had expanded its influence and won more recruits since the beginning of the U.S.-led air strikes against the terrorist group in Syria, in an interview that aired Sunday Anadolu Agency reported

Assad said the U.S. and its allies wanted to "sugar coat" the impact of the airstrikes during his sit-down with U.S. news outlet CBS.

Asked how much benefit his government was getting from the operations, he said, "Sometimes you could have local benefit but in general if you want to talk in terms of ISIS, actually ISIS has expanded since the beginning of the strikes."

The U.S. and a coalition of Arab states began air strikes in Syria last September, building upon an aerial campaign already hitting the terrorist group in Iraq.

Militants with Daesh have captured large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, on which it has declared what it calls a cross-border Islamic caliphate.

Assad claimed Daesh was attracting 1,000 fresh recruits per month in Syria.

"And Iraq -- they are expanding in Libya and many other al Qaeda affiliate organizations have announced their allegiance to ISIS. So that's the situation," he said.

When asked under which circumstances he would give up power, he said, "When I don't have the public support. When I don't represent the Syrian interests, and values."

He said he believes the Syrian people were behind him.

"I sense. I feel. I'm in contact with them. I'm a human. How can a human make that expectation of the population? I mean, the war was very important lab for this support. I mean, they could have -- if they don't support you, they could have -- go and support the other side. They didn't. Why? That's very clear. That's very concrete," he said.

Syria has been gripped by constant fighting since Assad's regime launched a violent crackdown in response to anti-government protests in March 2011, triggering a conflict that has spiraled into civil war and left more than 210,000 killed, according to UN.

Assad said he was "optimistic" about starting a dialogue with Washington after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's comment earlier this month that the U.S. would "have to negotiate in the end" with the Syrian president.

"We always wanted to have good relation with the United States," he said. "We never thought in the other direction. It's a great power. Nobody - no -- not a wise person think of having bad relation with United States."

Asked whether he could have good relationship with a country that thinks he should not be in power, Assad said, "No, that's not going to be part of the dialogue that I mentioned earlier. This is not their business. We have Syrian citizens, who can decide this."

Following Kerry's remarks, Washington reiterated its usual line that Assad had lost his legitimacy and has to go in order to establish peace in the warn-torn country.

He brushed aside as a disinformation campaign claims that his regime was behind a recent deadly chlorine gas attack on an opposition-held town, and suggested that the method was ineffective.

"This is part of the malicious propaganda against Syria. First of all, the chlorine gas is not military gas. You can buy it anywhere," Assad said, indicating that if anyone had used it, it was opposition forces.

The Syrian government allegedly launched a chlorine gas attack March 17 on a town in the northwestern province of Idlib, killing a family of six, including three children.

Reports of the attack followed a March 6 UN Security Council resolution that condemned the use of chlorine attacks in Syria. Opposition groups accused the government of carrying out the attack.

"It's not used as military gas. That's very self-evident. Traditional arms is more important than chlorine, and if it was very effective, the terrorists would have used it on a larger scale," Assad said.

Medical human rights organization Doctors Without Borders said symptoms described by medical staff at a local hospital indicated the presence of chlorine poisoning. "There were no signs suggestive of another class of toxic products."

Locals witnessed helicopters dropping "barrels that released a suffocating gas on impact," the organization said. Government forces are believed to be the only ones to operate helicopters in the country.

Assad said his government would allow an "impartial" investigation team to verify whether chlorine had been used.

"This is part of this propaganda because, as you know, in the media, when it bleeds it leads ... and they always look for something that bleeds, which is the chlorine gas and the barrel bombs," he said.

Assad's interview with Charlie Rose was recorded by Syrian TV at the request of "Assad's people," citing "security" reasons, the CBS network said.