Syria’s president has harshly criticised US and British aid to the country’s rebels and set harsh terms for talking to his opponents in a newspaper interview published yesterday, as fighting raged across the country.
Rebels made significant gains in the heavily contested north-eastern Syrian, capturing a police academy complex west of Aleppo and storming the central prison in the city of Raqqa, as well as a border crossing along Syria’s frontier with Iraq, activists said.
President Bashar Assad took a tough line against his opponents in the interview with London’s Sunday Times, pulling back on earlier hints of flexibility about talks.
He said he is ready for dialogue with armed rebels and militants, but only if they surrender their weapons. Recently, his foreign minister offered such talks but left the question of laying down arms unanswered. Assad’s regime often refers to rebels as terrorists.
“We are ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their arms.
“We are not going to deal with terrorists who are determined to carry weapons, to terrorise people, to kill civilians, to attack public places or private enterprise and to destroy the country,” Assad said. “We fight terrorism.”
Most opposition groups have rejected talks with Assad’s regime, with some demanding he resign before talks can begin. Assad said that he would not step down or go into exile.
“No patriotic person will think about living outside his country. I am like any other patriotic Syrian,” he said.
The interview was conducted in Damascus last week and was published yesterday, coinciding with US Secretary of State John Kerry’s first foreign tour.
Kerry met with Syrian rebels in Italy on Thursday. He has announced a $60m (€46m) package of non-lethal US aid to the rebels.
Assad said the “intelligence, communication and financial assistance being provided is very lethal”.
Assad also bitterly criticised Britain. He said that, instead of pushing for peace talks, British prime minister David Cameron’s “naive, confused, unrealistic” government was trying to end an EU arms embargo so that the rebels can be supplied with weapons.
“We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter,” he said, dismissing any notion that Britain could help end the civil war, which has killed more than 70,000 people.
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