Military campaign by Syria, allies vital to save ME: Assad

Published October 5, 2015
Russia says its air strikes have damaged control system and supply lines of IS.—Reuters/File
Russia says its air strikes have damaged control system and supply lines of IS.—Reuters/File

BEIRUT: President Bashar al-Assad said the success of a military campaign by Russia, Syria and its allies was vital to save the Middle East from destruction, a day after Moscow said it would step up air strikes against the self-styled Islamic State (IS) across Syria.

A year-long air campaign by Western and Arab air forces in Syria and Iraq had been counter-productive, Mr Assad said, helping terrorism spread and win new recruits, but a coalition of Syria, Russia, Iran and Iraq could achieve “real results”.

“It must succeed otherwise we face the destruction of the entire region, not only one or two states,” he said in an interview with Iranian television broadcast on Sunday.

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Mr Assad was speaking days after Russian jets based in western Syria launched air strikes against targets Moscow had identified as IS bases, but which the president’s opponents said disproportionately hit rival, foreign-backed insurgents.

The United States, France and Britain say the Russian air strikes are aimed at propping up Mr Assad after recent rebel advances.

Russia says its air strikes have damaged control system and supply lines of IS

Russia said on Sunday its planes flew 20 sorties in Syria and struck 10 IS targets in the previous 24 hours, including a training camp and a suicide-belt factory.

“We have managed to disrupt their control system, the terrorist organisation’s supply lines, and also caused significant damage to the infrastructure used to prepare acts of terror,” Russia’s defence ministry said.

Residents in the Syrian province of Homs reported air strikes on Sunday they believed were carried out by Russian jets, in an area controlled by factions fighting under the umbrella of the rebel Free Syrian Army, not IS.

“So far there are seven or six raids in the town,” said Abdul Ghafar al Dweik, a volunteer rescue worker in the town of Talbiseh, adding that the air strikes were different to previous attacks by Syrian warplanes.

“With the Syrian planes, we would get a warning but now all of a sudden we see it over our heads,” he said.

At least five bodies were recovered in the western part of Talbiseh, he said. Ambulances rushed wounded people to hospital.

Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front said in a statement that fighters in the region around Talbiseh — a pocket of insurgent-controlled land — were forming a joint military “operations room” to coordinate operations.

A separate statement in the name of dozens of Free Syrian Army officers said they would take part in the unified command “to confront the Russian and Iranian occupation”.

Elsewhere in Syria, Russian jets struck near Raqqa, the Syrian stronghold of IS fighters, a Syrian military source said, as well as the western towns of Maarat al-Numaan and Jisr al-Shughour, where rival insurgents were more prominent.

Mr Assad said air strikes by Syrian jets, now joined by Russia, had been far more significant than anything achieved by the year-long air campaign by the United States and its Western and Arab allies.

“Countries which support terrorism cannot battle terrorism,” he said. “That’s the truth of the coalition that we see... That’s why after a year and several months we see no results.

“We see the opposite... terrorism has spread geographically and won more volunteers and recruits.”

Efforts to find a political solution to the civil war have so far proven fruitless, with most rebel fighters demanding President Assad’s departure as a precondition for talks. Western states also say Mr Assad must step aside, though most have softened their stance to say he could play some role in a transition period.

“In regard to their recent statements about a transitional period and other issues, I say clearly that it’s not up to any foreign official to decide Syria’s future,” Mr Assad said.

“The future political system, and which individuals govern Syria, this is a decision for the Syrian people. That’s why these statements don’t concern us.”

Published in Dawn, October 5th , 2015

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