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Syria's Bashar Assad talks 'world war'

May 10, 2018

Syria's president believes his country is caught up in a much larger conflict than its own civil war. He warned that "things are going to be out of control" if superpowers engage in direct conflict.

Syrian President Bashar Assad during an exclusive interview with Greek newspaper Kathimerini
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/SANA

In an exclusive interview with Greek newspaper Kathimerini, Syrian President Bashar Assad weighed in on major issues, including allegations of chemical weapons attacks, US troops in the country and his possible resignation as a political solution to the seven-year conflict.

Assad compared the fighting in Syria to a "world war," saying "it's something more than a cold war, but less than a full-blown war."

Since the civil conflict emerged in 2011, it has transformed into a multi-faceted war, drawing in global superpowers, regional players and non-state actors, including the US, Russia, Iran and Israel.

Read more: What do the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran want in Syria?

"I hope we don't see any direct conflict between these superpowers, because this is where things are going to be out of control for the rest of the world," Assad said in the interview, which was aired on Thursday by DW partner, Greek broadcaster SKAI TV.

His comments came ahead of an Israeli retaliation against Iranian military assets in Syria. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said his country was responding to an Iranian assault on front-line military positions in the Golan Heights.

'We don't have any chemical arsenal'

On the question of chemical weapons, Assad said his country complied with UN resolutions and handed over its stockpiles to international authorities.

"We don't have a chemical arsenal since we gave it up in 2013," said Assad. "The (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) made investigations about this, and it's clear that we don't have them."

In December 2014, OPCW investigators began dismantling Syria's chemical weapons stockpile as part of a UN Security Council resolution passed the year before. But the United States and its European allies have accused Damascus of still using chemical weapons on civilians.

Read more: What traces of chemical weapons could OPCW investigators still find in Syria?

Last month, at least 49 people were killed and dozens more injured in an alleged chemical weapons attack. The US and other Western countries accused the Syrian regime of staging the assault.

But Assad refused to accept responsibility for the attack in rebel-held Douma, saying: "It's a farce, it's a play. It's a very primitive play just to attack the Syrian army."

One day 'I have to leave'

The Syrian president also said he would step down under certain conditions, but rejected doing so as part of a political solution to the seven-year conflict.

"When I feel that the Syrian people do not want me to stay anymore, of course I have to leave, without hesitation," Assad said.

Read more: Syrian women tortured and humiliated in Assad regime prisons

However, he suggested that he has "the majority of the Syrian people's support," because without it, "how could I withstand for more than seven years now, with all this animosity by the strongest and richest countries?"

At least 350,000 people have been killed and more than half the population displaced since the conflict emerged in 2011, when government forces launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters calling for the release of political prisoners and Assad to step down.

Despite numerous international attempts to negotiate a political solution to the conflict, peace remains elusive.

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