Syrian army will retake north 'by force' if necessary, says President Assad

Warning issued to rebel groups as government continues offensive in the south west

Sunday 24 June 2018 17:39 BST
A Syrian government soldier stands guard near destroyed buildings in Jobar, Damascus
A Syrian government soldier stands guard near destroyed buildings in Jobar, Damascus (REUTERS)

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has vowed to use military force to regain control of the north of the country if rebels refuse to surrender and bring an end to the seven-year civil war.

“We have chosen two paths,” Mr al-Assad said in an interview with Russian television channel NTV on Sunday. “The first and most important one is reconciliation. The second path is to attack terrorists if they don’t surrender and refuse to make peace.”

Asked about the rebels in the north of the country where groups backed by Turkey hold territory, he said: “We will fight with them and return control by force. It is certainly not the best option for us, but it’s the only way to get control of the country.”

The president’s warning came as government forces continued their offensive in the south western of Syria near the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

On Saturday night Russian jets provided support,launching at least 20 airstrikes on the rebel-held town of Busra al Harir, according to rebels and residents.

Iranian-backed fighters are also believed to be supporting the Syrian army’s offensive against a string of rebel held towns in Quneitra province near the Israeli border.

On Sunday Israel’s military said it had launched missiles at an incoming drone from Syria, forcing it to turn away from the border.

The US has previously threatened to take “firm and appropriate measures” if the Syrian government and Russia violated the “de-escalation zones” agreed last year.

However it has since emerged it has also told the Free Syrian Army group not to expect military support.

In a message sent to the rebel leaders, the US warned: “You should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us.”

“We in the United States government understand the difficult conditions you are facing and still advise the Russians and the Syrian regime not to undertake a military measure that violates the zone,” the message added.

The US has supported the FSA with millions of dollars worth of arms during the civil war as part of an aid programme run by the CIA.

Mr al-Assad also told Russian TV that Syria would not accept any Western money to help rebuild the country.

“We have enough strength to rebuild the country. If we don’t have money – we will borrow from our friends, from Syrians living abroad,” the president said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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