President Assad to hold elections in Syria... but only after he wipes out 'terrorists’

‘Patriotic’ opposition groups could be allowed to stand in the poll

David Trayner
Sunday 25 October 2015 13:40 GMT
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Assad said Russian President Vladimir Putin is 'writing a new history' after intervening in the civil war
Assad said Russian President Vladimir Putin is 'writing a new history' after intervening in the civil war (Reuters)

President Bashar al-Assad has promised to hold fresh elections in Syria - but only after ‘terrorist’ forces have been defeated.

The Syrian leader told Russian lawmakers he would be prepared to take part in an early presidential election, hold parliamentary elections and discuss constitutional changes.

Sergei Gavrilov, who was part of a Russian delegation meeting Assad in Damascus, told Russian news agency Tass the president was ready to include ‘reasonable, patriotic opposition forces’, in parliamentary elections.

But victory over ‘terrorist’ forces - which presumably include the US and UK-backed Free Syrian Army as well as Isis – must come first.

A Free Syrian Army fighter monitors the movements of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. Russia has said it is open to helping the Western-backed rebels
A Free Syrian Army fighter monitors the movements of forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. Russia has said it is open to helping the Western-backed rebels (Reuters)

The first aim (is) the struggle with and victory over... terrorism, and after that the elections - parliamentary and president elections.

&#13; <p>State Duma deputy Sergei Gavrilov</p>&#13;

Mr Gavrilov, a Communist State Duma deputy, told Reuters: "The first aim (is) the struggle with and victory over... terrorism, and after that the elections - parliamentary and president elections."

It is unclear how strong a mandate any elections could provide as more than four million Syrians have fled the country.

The Syrian war in numbers

  • Began March 2011
  • 45% of Syrians forced out of their homes
  • 7.6 million Syrians are displaced within the country
  • 3.8 million have sought refuge in other countries

Assad told the visiting Russian delegation that Moscow's entry into the conflict is "the writing of a new history" and will determine the future of the region and the world.

He said eradicating terrorists groups will lead to the solution sought by Russia and Syria, which "pleases the Syrian people and maintains Syria's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity."

Assad won ostensibly multi-candidate presidential elections in the country last year, but Syrian opposition forces boycotted the vote, which was dismissed by the US, EU and UN as illegitimate.

The Syrian leader's comments come as top diplomats from Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are discussing new ideas to revive a failed political transition in Syria to end the war — now in its fifth year.

The war, which has killed 250,000 Syrians and displaced millions, has become increasingly complex as Russia and a US-led coalition attack different insurgent groups in Syria in separate and uncoordinated air campaigns.

The new diplomatic push follows the recent Russian military intervention in Syria, targeting what Moscow and Damascus call terrorists with daily airstrikes.

Opposition groups and Washington say the Russian air campaign aims to bolster Assad, who has faced major setbacks from advancing insurgents— including western-backed rebels as well as militant groups.

Russia says it is targeting the Isis group and other terrorists in Syria, but most of the Russian airstrikes have focused on areas where the Isis militants do not have an active presence. Russian airstrikes have also enabled a government ground offensive on a number of fronts, backed by allied troops from Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad demonstrate in support of his candidacy for president during elections last year
Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad demonstrate in support of his candidacy for president during elections last year (AP)

Meanwhile, Moscow has invited the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to coordinate their air campaign, which targets the Islamic State group in Syria. But so far the US-led coalition has refused to cooperate with Russia's operations beyond a basic agreement intended to prevent mid-air incidents. Jordan, a member of the U.S.-led coalition, has agreed to separately coordinate with Russia.

A future role for Assad is a major sticking point in the pursuit of a political solution. Russia strongly supports Assad and a role for him in the political transition.

The opposition, rebel groups and their supporters, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, say Assad must go if the conflict is to be resolved.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said recently that some ideas are surfacing "which I hope have a possibility of changing the dynamic." He didn't elaborate.

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