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Syrian general 'warns refugees not to return home'

Last year, the commander was photographed with mutilated bodies of dead IS militants[Getty]

Date of publication: 13 September, 2017

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A Syrian military general has threatened refugees who want to return to their war-torn country, which has seen almost of third of its population displaced.

A Syrian military general has threatened refugees who want to return to their war-torn country, which has seen almost of third of its population displaced.

Issam Zaher al-Deen said this week in an interview with state-run television that the millions of refugees who have fled the years of fighting should never come back.

"I thank all the people who have stood with us, but, for the people who escaped or fled from Syria to any other country, I hope that you never come back," Zaher al-Deen said.

"Even if the state forgives you, I swear that we will never forgive and forget. A piece of advice from me to all of you: none of you should come back," he added.

Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes since Syria's conflict erupted in 2011 with protests calling for Assad's ouster that turned into a complex war drawing in world powers.

Zaher al-Deen later backtracked on his controversial comments in an audio message published by local media, claiming his words had been taken out of context.

"I was addressing those who have taken up arms against their compatriots and against the Syrian Arab Army - not normal people who escaped from scourge of war. Our arms are extended to them with an olive branch," the general said.

Zaher al-Deen has been leading the regime's offensive on Deir ez-Zor city - the capital of the oil-rich eastern province of the same name, which has been largely controlled by the Islamic State group since 2014.

The field commander is well-known for his brutal tactics in the war against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.

Last year, he was photographed with mutilated bodies of dead IS militants.

His son, who also serves in the military, would later justify the images as an attempt to show the world their victories over the horrors of IS.

More than 600,000 displaced Syrians have returned to their homes since the beginning of the year, with most of them heading to Aleppo, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration.

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