Assad accuses West of fuelling Syrian war in hopes of toppling his regime

Leader claims alleged Douma chemical attack was staged and tells UK to 'prove it with evidence' in new interview

Tom Barnes
Monday 11 June 2018 00:58 BST
Assad has challenged the West to provide evidence his government has carried out chemical attacks
Assad has challenged the West to provide evidence his government has carried out chemical attacks (AP)

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Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has claimed the West is fuelling the war that has crippled his country for more than seven years to enact regime change.

In an interview published on Sunday, Mr Assad said the US, UK and France have lied about his regime's use of chemical weapons against its own people.

The Syrian leader also reiterated his long-held position the uprising against his rule was orchestrated to remove a government that does not cooperate with Western policies in the Middle East.

“The whole approach towards Syria in the West is, 'we have to change this government, we have to demonise this president, because they don't suit our policies anymore’,” he told the Mail on Sunday.

“They tell lies, they talk about chemical weapons, they talk about the bad president killing the good people, freedom, peaceful demonstration.”

“I have always said that in less than a year we can solve this conflict, it’s not complicated. What has made it complicated is the external interference.

“The more we advance, the more support terrorists have from the West.

“So, we think the more advances we make politically and militarily, the more that the West, especially the US, UK and France, will try to prolong it and make the solution farther from the Syrians.”

Syria is allied with Iran and Russia, and has had turbulent relations with the West. It is technically at war with Israel, which occupies the Syrian Golan Heights, but a cease-fire has largely held since the 1970s.

The conflict in Syria broke out in 2011, beginning with peaceful protests against decades of rule by the Assad family.

The government's violent response to the protests, and the eventual rise of an armed insurgency, tipped the country into a civil war that has claimed nearly half a million lives.

Since then, Western nations and independent experts have accused the government of carrying out several chemical weapons attacks, most recently in April, in Douma, near Damascus.

In response, the US, UK and France carried out a series of air strikes on military installations aimed at reducing the Assad regime’s chemical weapons capabilities.

The Syrian government has routinely denied ever using chemical weapons.

However, videos uploaded online by the White Helmets, a volunteer search-and-rescue organisation operating in rebel-held Syria, showed images of young children apparently suffering the effects of a chemical attack.

Mr Assad claimed the White Helmets were a “PR stunt” by the three Western nations involved in air strikes against his country, calling on Britain to prove the attack took place.

“The UK publicly supported the White Helmets that are a branch of Al Qaeda,” he said.

“We consider the White Helmets to be a PR stunt by the UK. So yes, definitely, it was staged by these three countries together and the UK is involved.”

“It was a lie. After we liberated that area our information confirmed the attack did not take place.

“The British government should prove with evidence that the attack happened, and then they should prove who is responsible. This did not happen.”

Mr Assad said he has remained in office through more than seven years of war because he has “public support”.

“We are fighting the terrorists, and those terrorists are supported by the British government, the French government, the Americans and their puppets whether in Europe or in our region,” he said.

“We are fighting them, and we have public support in Syria to fight those terrorists. That's why we are advancing. We cannot make these advances just because we have Russian and Iranian support.”

On Sunday, air strikes killed at least nine people in the town of Taftanaz and another two people in nearby towns in the northern Idlib province, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory and an activist-run media centre in Taftanaz said a local paediatric hospital was struck, putting it out of order.

Additional reporting by AP

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