Silent on Gas Attack, Assad Blames Israel, Blasts Trump

Syria's president says after the government failed to reach 'results' with opposition groups, there's 'no option except victory.'

FILE PHOTO: Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, speaks with French journalists in Damascus, Syria. Jan. 9, 2017.
Uncredited/AP

Syrian President Bashar Assad told a Croatian newspaper in an interview published on Thursday that his government has no choice other than to defeat what he described as terror.

He blamed Israel for supporting “terrorists” fighting the Syrian army and stressed that there is a state of war between the two countries. Assad also blamed the Trump administration for operating in Syria without coordinating with his government and said U.S. President Donald Trump is not interested in stability in Syria.

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Assad and the interviewer did not discuss the chemical attack that killed at least 70 people, including at least 20 children, and injured hundreds more in the northwestern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday. The regime strongly denied any role. 

Assad said there is no “option except victory” in the country's civil war and added that the government could not reach “results” with opposition groups that attended recent peace talks. “If we do not win this war, it means that Syria will be deleted from the map. We have no choice in facing this war, and that's why we are confident, we are persistent and we are determined,” he told the newspaper.

Asked if he feared a head-on confrontation with Israel, Assad said that the present situation shows that such a scenario is already playing out, and that it could be defined as a Syrian-Israeli war. “The same terrorists fighting on Syrian soil serve Israel, even if they are not members of Israel's standing army. Israel is a partner with the same goals as Turkey, the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries.”

Assad said new tools are being used in the war, and that “therefore, Israel is making an effort to support terror organizations in areas where the Syrian army is making progress.” Citing recent rebel offensives in Damascus and near the northern city of Hama, Assad said “the opposition which exists is a jihadi opposition in the perverted sense of jihad.”

“That is why we cannot, practically, reach any actual result with this part of the opposition (in talks). The evidence is that during the Astana negotiations they started their attack on the cities of Damascus and Hama and other parts of Syria, repeating the cycle of terrorism and the killing of innocents,” he said. 

Rebels have in recent weeks launched two of their boldest offensives in many months, attacking in Damascus and north of the government-held city of Hama. The army said both assaults have been repelled. 

Assad also attacked the Trump administration, saying that a government that sends troops to northern Syria without coordinating with Damascus is not interested in the country's stability. 

According to Assad, any involvement by foreign troops in Syria without coordination is tantamount to an invasion against Syria's will. He stressed that any change in his status and role is an internal matter that the Syrian people alone will decide on.

Last Tuesday, at least 70 people died and hundreds were injured in the chemical attack in Idlib. A U.S. official said that his government believes that the attack involved sarin gas, and that it was “almost certainly” perpetrated by forces loyal to Assad.

While it was unclear when the interview was conducted, it appeared to have taken place before U.S. President Donald Trump accused Assad of crossing "many, many lines" with the attack. 

The Russian allies say the deaths were caused by a leak from an arms depot where rebels were making chemical weapons, after it was hit in a Syrian airstrike. Rebels deny this. 

Reuters contributed to this report.