Bashar al-Assad vows to retake all of Syria

President’s comments undermine fragile Munich ceasefire agreement

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: “If we negotiate, it does not mean that we stop fighting terrorism”. Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: “If we negotiate, it does not mean that we stop fighting terrorism”. Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

 
Syria

it could “take a long time”.

The Syrian president was speaking to the AFP news agency in Damascus on Thursday, hours before a deal was reached in Munich on arranging a cessation of hostilities and the urgent despatch of food, medicines and other supplies to hundreds of thousands of civilians in besieged areas.

Mr Assad said his armed forces would try to retake all of Syria but that the involvement of regional players “means that the solution will take a long time and will incur a heavy price”.

Direct intervention

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The Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said yesterday Mr Assad’s removal was vital to defeat Islamic State. “We will achieve it,” he told the Munich security conference.

Mr Assad said it would be possible to end the war “in less than a year” if rebel supply routes from Turkey, Jordan and Iraq were cut. The signs are that Russian air strikes, which were not mentioned in the Munich statement, are helping him achieve that goal.

“The main battle is about cutting the road between Aleppo and Turkey, for Turkey is the main conduit of supplies for the terrorists,” he said.

Russian aircraft were seen in action in northern Syria again yesterday.

The Syrian leader affirmed his readiness to talk – but he offered nothing to the forces who have been seeking to overthrow him since 2011.

“We have fully believed in negotiations,” he said. “However, if we negotiate, it does not mean that we stop fighting terrorism. The two tracks are inevitable in Syria.”

Defiant tone

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Initial efforts to plan aid deliveries were under way yesterday at the UN headquarters in Geneva, where a new task force on humanitarian access in Syria was being chaired by Jan Egeland, adviser to the UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura. “Once we get clearance by concerned parties, the UN and its humanitarian partners will be able to reach the civilians in need within the coming days,” he said.

Mr de Mistura suspended the fledgling Syria peace talks after just three days on February 3rd. Plans to resume them on February 25th were still “cloudy”, said UN spokesman Ahmed Fawzi. Jan Eliasson, the UN’s deputy secretary general, described the Munich agreement as a “brake” on the conflict, but not a “breakthrough”.

Members of Syria’s moderate, western-backed opposition reacted cautiously to the deal, saying they did not trust Russia to keep its end of the bargain and halt an intense aerial campaign responsible for the most significant advances by forces loyal to Assad since the start of the civil war.

The advance has so far displaced 51,000 civilians and put 300,000 more at risk of being placed under siege in Aleppo, according to UN officials.

Rebels also questioned the real impact of the deal on the ground, since it excludes the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, which operates in large swathes of the country. – (Guardian service)