Bashar al-Assad says he is getting information, but nothing tactical, about U.S.-led efforts against ISIS
He denies that the government has been using barrel bombs to attack opposition-controlled areas
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says his regime is apprised of U.S.-led coalition efforts against ISIS in his country – not by the Americans, but through third parties such as Iraq.
“Sometimes, they convey a message, a general message, but there’s nothing tactical,” he told the BBC. “There is no dialogue. There’s, let’s say, information, but not dialogue.”
Several Western countries have clamored for al-Assad to step down since 2011, when peaceful protests against his regime led to a violent government crackdown and, subsequently, a full-on civil war.
But now, U.S. allies and the Syrian regime have a common enemy: ISIS, which is trying to solidify an Islamic state across swaths of Iraq and Syria.
In the broad BBC interview, al-Assad said Syria won’t join the international coalition trying to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.
“No, definitely we cannot and we don’t have the will and we don’t want, for one simple reason: because we cannot be in an alliance with countries which support terrorism,” he said.
For years, al-Assad’s government has used the term “terrorists” to describe radical militants as well as members of the Syrian opposition.
No talks with U.S.
Even though U.S.-led warplanes have been striking ISIS targets in Syria – using the country’s airspace along with the regime – al-Assad said he doesn’t speak with U.S. officials.
“No, because they don’t talk to anyone unless it’s a puppet, and they easily trample over international law, which is about our sovereignty now,” he said in the interview. “So they don’t talk to us, we don’t talk to them.”
Al-Assad said the messages about U.S.-led coalition efforts have been coming “through third-party, more than one-party, Iraq and other countries.”
“We knew about the campaign before it started,” he said. “But we didn’t know details.”
Barrel bomb denial
In the interview, al-Assad flatly denied that his military is using barrel bombs in rebel-controlled areas, even though opposition activists report near-daily barrel bombs raining from regime helicopters.
Barrel bombs are filled with explosives and other objects, such as nails, to produce maximum carnage. Human rights activists say these bombs are particularly abhorrent because they kill and maim indiscriminately, often civilians.
“I know about the army. They use bullets, missiles and bombs. I haven’t heard of the army using barrels or maybe cooking pots,” al-Assad told the BBC.
“There’s no indiscriminate weapons. When you shoot, you aim. And when you aim, you aim at terrorists in order to protect civilians – again if you’re talking about casualties, that’s war. You cannot have war without casualties.”
The United Nations has said about 200,000 people have been killed in the civil war.
On Tuesday, the opposition group Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported more barrel bombs falling on the provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Daraa – the birthplace of the uprising.
Defending the sieges
On top of the staggering death toll, the civil war has also left 12.2 million Syrians in need of humanitarian aid, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Kyung-wha Kang said last month.
Many have been choked off from food and medical care as the military besieged rebel-held cities.
But in his BBC interview, al-Assad defended the blockades.
“In most of the areas where the rebels take over, the civilians fled and come to our areas,” he said. “So most of the areas that we encircle and attack are only filled with militants.”