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One of Spain's leading newspapers, El País, sat down with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus for an interview about what lies ahead for Syria. We've compiled some highlights below:
Q. A truce was announced by Russia and the United States. Is the Syrian government willing to respect the cessation of military operations in Syria?
A: Definitely ... A ceasefire is about – if you want to say ceasefire, it’s not the correct word, because a ceasefire is between two armies or two countries – it’s better to say cessation of hostility, or, let’s say, stopping the operations ... It’s about preventing other countries, especially Turkey, from sending more recruits, more terrorists, more armaments, or any kind of logistical support to those terrorists. There is a United Nations resolution, or Security Council resolution, regarding this point that’s not implemented. If we don’t provide all these requirements for the ceasefire, it will be against the stability; it’s going to make more chaos in Syria, it may lead to a de facto division of the country.
Q. Russia has started an aggressive campaign of aerial bombings here in key opposition strongholds. This has been a turning point in the conflict. Some claim that you have the upper hand now. Do you think you could have made it without foreign help?
A. Definitely the Russian and the Iranian support were essential for our army to make this advancement. To say that we couldn’t have made it is a hypothetical question, because it’s an “if,” so nobody knows the real answer of the “if.” But we definitely need that help for a simple reason: because more than 80 countries supported those terrorists in different ways, some of them directly with money, with logistical support, with armaments, with recruitments. Some other countries supported them politically, in different international forums. Syria is a small country. We could fight, but in the end, there’s unlimited support and recruitment for those terrorists.
Q. Regarding these Russian aerial bombings, are you concerned about civilian casualties? On Monday, there was a bombing in a hospital and 50 people were killed. The United States has claimed that the Russians caused it.
A. Some other officials in the United States said they don’t know who did it, that’s what they said later. These contradictory statements are common in the United States, but no one has any proof about who did it and how it happened.
Q. So, how do you explain to your people, to the Syrians, that there is a foreign army carrying out operations here that can cause civilian casualties?
A. No, no. We don’t have any evidence that the Russians attacked any civilian targets. They are very precise in their targets and they always attack, every day, the bases or the targets of the terrorists. Actually, it’s the Americans who did this, who killed many civilians in the northeastern part of Syria, not the Russians. Not a single incident has happened regarding the civilians so far, because they don’t attack in the cities; they attack mainly in the rural areas.
Q. Talking about foreign armies, how would you react if Turkey and Saudi Arabia follow through with their statements that they plan on sending troops here to allegedly fight the Islamic State?
A. ...If it happens, we’re going to deal with them like we deal with the terrorists. We’re going to defend our country. This is aggression. They don’t have any right to interfere, politically or militarily, in Syria. This is a breach of international law, and as Syrian citizens, the only option we have is to fight and defend.
Q. Turkey has started bombing from their territory into Syria.
A. Exactly, and before that bombing, Turkey was sending the terrorists, it’s the same, the same goal, the same effect, in different ways. So, Turkey has been involved in Syria since the very beginning.
Q. Regarding this, what do you think attracts so many foreigners into Syria right now?
A. Mainly the support they’ve been sent. It’s active, not passive, it’s actually active from the outside. Saudi Arabia is the main financier of those terrorists. They put them in airplanes, send them to Turkey, and through Turkey to Syria.
Q. Let me read from a United Nations Human Rights Council report that was published on February 3, and it said “detainees held by the government were beaten to death or died as a result of injuries sustained due to torture.” They say war crimes have also been committed. What do you have to say to this?
A. That’s based on what the Qataris made about a year ago or more, when they forged a report made of unverified pictures of injured people and unverified sources and sent it to the United Nations, and this is part of the propaganda against Syria. That’s the problem with the West and propaganda; they use unverified information to accuse Syria and to blame it and then to take action against it.
Q. So, from your perspective, from the very beginning you labeled those protests that were in Daraa and Damascus as terrorism, as infiltrated by foreign powers. How do you view those first demonstrations against the government?
A. At the very beginning, you had a mixture of demonstrators. First of all, Qatar paid those demonstrators in order to put them on Al Jazeera and then to convince the international public opinion that people are revolting against the president. The highest number of those were 140,000 demonstrators all over Syria, which is nothing, as a number, that’s why we weren’t worried. So, they infiltrated them with militants to shoot at the police and to shoot at the demonstrators, so you have more revolts. When they failed, they moved to send the tools to support the terrorists.
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