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Syria's Assad accuses West of 'supporting terrorism'

Assad sees Prague as a possible venue to sign any future peace deal [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 December, 2015

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says peace will only come to Syria when the West and its Middle Eastern allies 'stop supporting terrorists'.

President Bashar al-Assad said peace would only come to war-torn Syria when the West and its Middle Eastern allies "stop supporting terrorists", in an interview aired on Tuesday on Czech TV.

Asked what it would take to bring an end to Syria's devastating four-year civil war, Assad said: "When those countries that I mentioned - France, UK, US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some other - stop supporting those terrorists."

The next "day the situation will be better and in a few months we will have full peace in Syria, definitely. If they stop," said Assad, whose regime receives direct military backing from Russia.

"If you want to fight and defeat them (terrorists), you have to cut and suffocate their supplies, their armaments, money ... coming mainly through Turkey and with the support of the Saudis and the Qataris," he said.

Since the outbreak of the 2011 revolt that later morphed into a brutal, multi-front civil war, Assad's regime has branded all its opponents, armed or unarmed, "terrorists".

The United States and other Western powers fighting Islamic State extremists have long insisted Assad must step down as part of any political solution to the Syrian conflict.


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France has been adamant in its opposition to Assad, describing him as a "butcher" of his own people amid the civil war that has so far claimed a quarter million lives and created millions of refugees, triggering the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

On a trip to Washington last week, French President Francois Hollande reiterated his determination to see Assad step down in order to give Syria a chance for peace, saying "it should be as soon as possible."

"He has been the problem - he cannot be the solution," Hollande said.

Assad hit back Tuesday, telling Czech public TV that the French only stepped up bombing of Islamic State targets after the Paris terror attacks "to dissipate the feeling of the French (people), nothing serious."

He meanwhile described military assistance provided to his regime by Russian President Vladimir Putin as "very serious in fighting terrorism."

Turning to a showdown between Turkey and Russia over Ankara's downing of a Russian jet fighter forces along the Turkish-Syrian border, Assad said opposition supporter Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was playing with fire.

"I think it (shooting down Russian jet) has shown the real intention of Erdogan who, let's say, lost his nerve just because the Russian intervention has changed the balance on the ground.

"So the failure of Erdogan in Syria, the failure of his terrorist groups means his political demise," he added.

Assad also said he saw Prague as a possible venue for signing any future peace deal to end his country's four-year civil war.

"Naturally, if you ask Syrians they will tell you they don't want a peace conference in France, for example, because France supports terrorism and war, not peace," he said on the CT public station.

    

Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, there have been several reports of the use of chemical weapons. Here is a recap of the situation:

- Damascus threatens to use chemical weapons -

July 23, 2012: The Syrian government acknowledges for the first time that it has chemical weapons and threatens to use them in the event of military operations by Western countries, but not against its own population.

August 20: US President Barack Obama says that using or even moving such weapons would constitute the crossing of a "red line".

- Sarin gas attack near Damascus -

August 21, 2013: Hundreds of people are killed in the east and southwest of Damascus, including in the neighbourhood of Moadamiyet al-Sham, in chemical weapons strikes after Syrian troops launch an offensive in the area.


The opposition accuses the Syrian army, but the government denies it. 

Late August: A US intelligence report blames the Syrian regime for the Moadamiyet al-Sham attack and adds that 426 children were among 1,429 people killed.

September 16: The UN reports "clear evidence" that sarin gas was used on August 21.

Two days earlier, however, Washington and Moscow agree on a plan to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons by the middle of 2014, putting off the threat of punitive strikes against the Assad regime by Washington and Paris.

- Chlorine attacks in northern and central Syria -

September 10, 2014: Investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] confirm that chlorine was used as a chemical weapon "systematically and repeatedly" in villages in northern Syria earlier in the year. It cites attacks in the villages of Talmanes, Al-Tamana and Kafr Zeita.


The watchdog group Human Rights Watch says that attacks on those villages in April were the work of Syrian government forces.

Late August: A UN commission accuses Syrian authorities of using chemical weapons, probably chlorine, eight times in western Syria.

August 7, 2015: The UN Security Council agrees to form a panel of experts to determine who was responsible for chlorine attacks in Syria.

Washington, London and Paris accuse the Syrian army, but Moscow says there is no irrefutable evidence that was the case.

EU slams Syria over chemical weapons

Meanwhile, a European Union envoy has criticised Syria for "gaps and contradictions" in its declarations about its chemical weapons arsenal to the global watchdog overseeing the destruction of the toxic armaments.

Jacek Bylica of Luxembourg said on Monday that the lack of clarity from Damascus, "makes it impossible to have confidence that its chemical weapons programme has been irreversibly dismantled".

Bylica delivered the damning statement on behalf of the EU on the opening day of the annual meeting of member states of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad rejected the claims, saying that only a few "technical elements" remained to be ironed out.

Syria declared an arsenal of 1,300 tons of chemical weapons when it joined the OPCW in 2013 under pressure from the international community following a deadly chemical attack on a Damascus neighbourhood.

More than 99 percent of those weapons have been destroyed, but questions remain about whether Syria had declared all of its stockpiles in the first place.

The OPCW has a special team reviewing Syria's declarations amid fears that if the nation still has chemical weapons or production capabilities they could fall into the hands of insurgents fighting in the country's civil war, including the Islamic State group.

Bylica said that during behind-closed-doors meetings this year member states were shown "alarming findings" of the declaration review team, saying that in five of the team's reports on Syria, "more new questions arose than found satisfactory answers".

The reports remain confidential.

A recent report by a separate international fact-finding team in Syria revealed that a "non-state actor" used the blistering agent sulfur mustard, an outlawed chemical weapon, in an attack near the northern Syrian town of Aleppo in August, likely killing an infant.

There have also been allegations of Syrian government forces using the widely available chemical chlorine as a weapon.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mekdad denied those allegations.

"We wish here to state categorically that we have never used chlorine or any other toxic chemicals during any incidents or any other operations in the Syrian Arab Republic since the beginning of the crisis and up to this very day," he said.

The United Nations and OPCW have established a joint investigation team to apportion blame for such attacks.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said on Monday that the team was expected to issue its first report in February.

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