Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with French media to be aired yesterday that his forces are on the road to victory after recapturing the key city of Aleppo last month. "We do not consider that (retaking Aleppo from the rebels) as a victory because victory will be when we have eliminated all the terrorists," Assad said, according to a French translation of his remarks provided by France's RTL television. "But it is a critical moment in this war because we are on the path to victory." It was his first interview with French media since the December 22 recapture of the rebel-held east of the city, which had been under siege for months.
Rebel forces, who seized east Aleppo in 2012, agreed to withdraw after a month-long army offensive that drove them from more than 90 percent of their former territory. The loss of east Aleppo was the biggest blow to Syria's rebel movement in the nearly six-year conflict, which has killed more than 310,000 people. Asked about heavy bombing raids that ravaged the city and claimed large numbers of civilian lives, Assad said: "Every war is bad." He added, in excerpts provided in English by France Info: "But you have to liberate, and this is the price sometimes. In the end, the people are liberated from the terrorists."
Earlier Sunday in Damascus, Assad told visiting French lawmakers that he was "optimistic" about new peace talks planned for later this month in Kazakhstan. The talks in Astana are being organized by regime allies Russia and Iran and rebel backer Turkey, following the imposition on December 30 of a fragile Syria-wide ceasefire. French lawmaker Thierry Mariani said Assad also declared himself willing to negotiate with nearly 100 rebel groups fighting against his government, excluding jihadist organizations. - AFP, Aleppo