Syrian president Bashar Assad has said the refugee crisis in Europe is a direct result of the West’s support of “terrorists” in Syria.
Speaking in an interview with Russian media, he said the priority must be defeating terrorism in Syria. Russian president Vladimir Putin has said it is impossible to defeat the Islamic State group without co-operating with Damascus, and in recent days has sent battle tanks and other weaponry to Syria.
US officials have said Moscow is simply trying to prop up Assad. In the interview, Assad addressed Europeans, saying: “Stop, if you are worried about them (refugees), stop supporting terrorists.”
The Syrian government considers all armed groups fighting to topple Assad to be terrorists.
Meanwhile, France confirmed its fighter jets will start bombing IS targets in Syria in the coming weeks, despite growing doubts over whether the US-led air campaign against extremists in the region is working.
Opposition conservative policy-makers argued in Paris this week against joining the air strikes, saying it would not change much on the ground, but defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on France-Inter radio that the French strikes would go forward “as soon as we have well-identified targets”.
French planes have been striking Iraq but have so far stayed away from Syria, amid fears that it could strengthen Assad. Mr Le Drian said the French position changed because of growing IS presence in Syria in recent months.
President Francois Hollande has said growing concern about refugees also played a role.