Assad blames Syrian refugee crisis on Western support for rebels

2015-09-16 17:01
 Syrian President Bashar Assad. (File, AP)

Syrian President Bashar Assad. (File, AP)

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Moscow - Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview published by Russian state media on Wednesday that Western support for rebel groups has caused the refugee crisis.

"These people are running from terrorism. ... The West is weeping over the refugees, but it has been supporting terrorists since the beginning of the crisis," Assad said, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.

"If Europeans are worried about the fate of the refugees, then they should stop supporting terrorists," he added.

France, Britain and the United States - which have accused Assad's regime of crimes against humanity, including gassing civilians - have openly provided non-lethal aid to rebel groups fighting to overthrow the regime.

The Syrian conflict, which began as a peaceful protest 2011, has led to at least 250 000 deaths, according to estimates by the United Nations.

More than half the country's prewar population of 22.4 million has been internally displaced or fled abroad.

Assad, who has ruled Syria for more than 15 years, told the Russian reporters that he would be willing to give up power if that is the outcome of a popular vote.

"If [I] will leave, it will be by the demand of the people, not a decision by the United States or the United Nations' Security Council," he said.

Assad was re-elected last year in a landslide election denounced by the United States as illegitimate because, as the US secretary of state said, millions of Syrians were unable to vote.

The United Nations said the election undermined efforts to achieve a political solution to the conflict.

Assad blames the US for the Syrian conflict. He told the Russian reporters that the US-led invasion of Iraq fomented religious strife in the region.

"We are Iraq's neighbours. We understood that as a result of that war, Iraq would split along confessional lines," he said. "The sources of the [Syrian] crisis were in that war."

The fundamentalist Islamic State (ISIS), a terrorist organisation that gained significant power after the US withdrew the bulk of its forces from Iraq, has conquered swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria over the past year.

Russia, which is one of Assad's closest allies, has been providing the government with humanitarian aid and military equipment to "fight terrorism", particularly Islamic State, the Russian Foreign Ministry said last week.

Read more on:    un  |  us  |  russia  |  syria  |  migrants

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