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Assad blames West for refugee flow

September 16, 2015

Bashar al-Assad has told Russian state media that the unfolding refugee issues in Europe were a result of the western support for "terrorists" fighting his military in Syria's civil war.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad answers questions during an interview with al-Manar's journalist Amro Nassef, in Damascus, Syria, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA on August 25, 2015 (Photo: REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters)
Image: Reuters/SANA

In a rare interview about the Syrian conflict and the European refugee crisis, broadcast by the Russian media on Wednesday, Syria's embattled leader said the western policy of supporting anti-government rebels in his country had backfired.

"These people are running from terrorism … The West is weeping over the refugees, but it has been supporting terrorists since the beginning of the crisis," Assad was quoted as saying by the Russian state news agency, RIA Novosti.

"Those refugees left Syria because of the terrorism, mainly because of the terrorists and because of the killing, and secondly because of the results of terrorism," said the Syrian leader. "When you have terrorism, and you have the destruction of the infrastructure, you won't meet the basic needs of living."

"If Europeans are worried about the fate of the refugees, then they should stop supporting terrorists," he added.

Thousands of people are fleeing a protracted civil war in Syria and heading to Europe via the Mediterranean. The arrival of these refugees has sparked an unprecedented crisis in Europe, with many governments imposing strict border checks to impede and manage the overflow of migrants. Germany and other European countries have pledged to take thousands of asylum-seekers as a gesture of solidarity.

A man carries a girl as they rush away from a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria August 24, 2015 (Photo: REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)
The conflict has claimed more than 240,000 lives and displaced millions since 2011Image: Reuters/B. Khabieh

Prepare to receive more refugees, warns Assad

Assad dismissed Western claims that his government was fuelling the refugee crisis by its actions in Syria, and warned Europe to brace for the influx of more refugees.

"As long as they follow this propaganda, they will have more refugees," Assad said.

The Unites States, Germany, France and Britain have repeatedly accused the Assad regime of crimes against humanity, including chemical weapons attacks against civilians.

The Syrian conflict, which started as a peaceful movement against Assad's authoritarian rule, soon turned violent with the emergence of many rebel groups, fighting against the government and among each other. The conflict has claimed more than 240,000 lives and displaced millions since 2011.

Unity against 'Islamic State'

Despite Saudi Arabia's recent claims that Assad's departure was only a matter of time, the Syrian president insisted that only the Syrians could force him to resign.

"As for the president, he comes to power with the people's assent though elections, and if he leaves, he leaves if the people demand it, not because of the judgment of the United States, the UN Security Council, the Geneva Conference or the Geneva Communique."

Assad said in the interview that his main focus was now on defeating the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS); he urged all parties to unite against the militant group, which has taken over vast swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Refugees cross the border into Hungary from Horgos, northern Serbia, 16 September 2015 (Photo: EPA/SANDOR UJVARI HUNGARY OUT +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
Avoiding Hungary, migrants leave Serbia for CroatiaImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S.Ujvari

"We, the political parties, the government and the armed groups that fought against the government, we must all unite in the name of combating terrorism," Assad said.

Russia's increasing support for Assad

Moscow has ratcheted up its diplomatic and military support for the Syrian government, which is seen by the Western nations as Russia's ambition to expand its influence in the Middle East.

In recent days, Russia has sent battle tanks, weapons and military advisers to Damascus, and there are reports that Moscow is setting up an airbase in the war-torn country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was impossible to defeat IS without cooperating with Assad.

Meanwhile, Iran, a key Assad ally, said it was ready to work with the West to achieve peace in Syria. Assad, however, played down the significance of the proposal, saying "there is currently no Iranian initiative, but there are ideas, or principles … based on Syria's sovereignty and on fighting terrorism."

shs/msh (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)