Assad vows to retake all of Syria

President Assad speaks to AFP news agency in Damascus. 11 Feb 2016Image copyright

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President Assad has been bolstered by Russian forces

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said that he intends to retake “the whole country” from rebel forces.

In a rare interview, he told AFP news agency that defeating the groups ranged against him could take some time due to the involvement of regional powers.

World powers have agreed to push for a cessation of hostilities in a week’s time.

The UN says it hopes to start delivering aid to some besieged areas in Syria within the next 24 hours.

Mr Assad expressed support for peace talks but said negotiations did not mean “we stop fighting terrorism”.

More than 250,000 people have been killed and some 11 million displaced in almost five years of fighting in Syria.

Some Syrian cities have been cut off from humanitarian aid for over a year because of fighting. About 13.5 million people are in need of aid, the UN says.

  • World media on Syria plan

Mr Assad was speaking in Damascus on Thursday, ahead of the deal on the cessation of hostilities that was agreed in Munich late on Thursday night.

He said government forces would try to retake all of Syria “without any hesitation”, but that the involvement of regional powers meant that “the solution will take a long time and will incur a heavy price”.

Mr Assad rejected recent accusations by the UN that his government was guilty of war crimes.

Earlier this month, UN human rights investigators said the Syrian government had carried out a state policy of extermination against thousands of detainees.

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Thousands of Syrians have fled fighting in Aleppo province and sought shelter at the Turkish border

In a report for the UN Human Rights Council, they accused the Syrian government of crimes against humanity. The report also said government and rebel forces had committed possible war crimes.

But Mr Assad called the accusations “politicised” and said the investigators had provided no evidence.

Tentative peace talks were held in Geneva earlier this month and have been “paused” until 25 February.

Mr Assad said he “fully believed in negotiations and in political action since the beginning of the crisis.”

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

He also told AFP he believed there was a risk that Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which both back Syrian rebel forces, would intervene militarily in Syria.

Meanwhile, a new UN task force to co-ordinate the distribution of aid is expected to convene in Geneva later on Friday.

“The UN system has been geared to deliver this aid all along, especially to besieged areas, and that’s precisely what’s going to be discussed today: how to start, and when to start,” UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

“We hope to start as early as tomorrow, immediately after the meeting, decisions will be taken to roll the aid in, especially to besieged areas that need it”, he added.

Syria conflict – key questions

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Why is there a war in Syria?

Anti-government protests developed into a civil war that, four years on, has ground to a stalemate, with the Assad government, Islamic State, an array of Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters all holding territory.

Who is fighting whom?

Government forces concentrated in Damascus and the centre and west of Syria are fighting the jihadists of Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, as well as less numerous so-called “moderate” rebel groups, who are strongest in the north and east. These groups are also battling each other.

How has the world reacted?

Iran, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement are propping up the Alawite-led Assad government, while Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar back the more moderate Sunni-dominated opposition, along with the US, UK and France. Hezbollah and Iran are believed to have troops and officers on the ground, while a Western-led coalition and Russia are carrying out air strikes.

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