Syrian President Bashar al-Assad tells El Pais he supports a cessation in hostilities
But he says any such ceasefire can't allow "terrorists" to improve their positions
Assad also calls Russian and Iranian support "essential" to Syrian military advances
Syria’s embattled leader is ready for a ceasefire – with a catch.
President Bashar al-Assad, who has weathered more than five years of civil war, told Spanish newspaper El Pais he “definitely” supports a pause in fighting, in part to allow more humanitarian aid to reach besieged civilians.
He’s only for such a move, however, if it will prevent “the terrorists from using the ceasefire or the cessation of hostility in order to improve their position.”
Assad added in the interview published Saturday, “It’s about preventing other countries, especially Turkey, from sending more recruits, more terrorists, more armaments, or any kind of logistical support to those terrorists.”
The Syrian government has persistently and broadly branded as terrorists those fighting to topple Assad. Furthermore, the ceasefire negotiated February 12 in Munich, Germany, came after talks involving representatives from more than a dozen countries – but not all those fighting in Syria, including ISIS.
That announcement raised hopes for a significant breather (if not an absolute stop) in the war that’s been ravaging the Middle Eastern nation. Yet while humanitarian aid has recently moved into troubled communities like Madaya, hope has been fading that there will be any pervasive, sustainable pause in violence anytime soon.
Unfortunately, that fits the pattern seen time and again in Syria – there’s been talk, even a few announced ceasefires, but no real peace.
Assad: Russia, Iran support has been ‘essential’
Instead, more than 250,000 people have been killed, more than 1 million injured and the majority of Syrians displaced since the bloodshed began in 2011, according to the United Nations.
Rather than calm, Friday saw more violence in places like al-Tool and al-Hasakah, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Aided by thunderous airstrikes, U.S.-backed rebels managed to oust ISIS from the strategic town of Ash Shaddadi, according to the observatory.
Still, efforts to forge a negotiated peace continue.
Russia proposed a new resolution to put before the U.N. Security Council on Friday, though America’s ambassador to the United Nations was skeptical.
“Rather than trying to distract the world with the resolution they just laid down, it would be really great if Russia would implement the resolution it’s already agreed to,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said. “We have a resolution on the books. It’s the right resolution. We’ve committed ourselves to it, and we need Russia to do the same.”
One person who believes Russia has had a positive effect on Syria: Bashar al-Assad.
The United States has accused Russia and Syria of carrying out airstrikes that hit hospitals and schools in northern Syria this week.
Moscow has refuted those claims. And in his interview with El Pais, Assad called military support from Russia and fellow ally Iran “essential” to government troops’ recent advances.
“(Syrian troops) need that help for a simple reason; because more than 80 countries supported (the) terrorists in different ways, some of them directly with money, with logistical support, with armaments, with recruitments,” the Syrian President said, seemingly claiming that international support for any number of rebel factions equates to support for “terrorists.”
“Of course, Syria is a small country,” Assad added. “We could fight, but at the end, there’s unlimited support (for) those terrorists.”
CNN’s Richard Beltran, Josh Berlinger and Don Melvin contributed to this report.