Al Assad vows to recover SDF-held areas

President also calls on American forces to ‘learn lessons from Iraq invasion an leave Syria’

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), trained by the US-led coalition, participate in the graduation ceremony of their first regiment in al-Kasrah, in the suburb of eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, on May 21, 2018. / AFP / Delil souleiman

Beirut: President Bashar Al Assad said he would recover areas of Syria held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and that US forces should learn the lesson of Iraq and leave the country.

In an interview with Russia Today, Al Assad also said the government had “started now opening doors for negotiations” with the SDF, a Kurdish dominated militia alliance that controls parts of northern and eastern Syria where US forces are stationed.

“This is the first option. If not, we’re going to resort to … liberating those areas by force,” he said, adding “the Americans should leave, somehow they’re going to leave”.

“They came to Iraq with no legal basis, and look what happened to them. They have to learn the lesson. Iraq is no exception, and Syria is no exception. People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore,” he said.

Responding to US President Donald Trump’s description of him as “Animal Al Assad”, the Syrian leader said: “What you say is what you are”.

Trump called Al Assad an animal after a suspected poison gas attack on a rebel-held town near Damascus in April.

Al Assad reiterated the government’s denial that it carried out the attack in the eastern Ghouta town of Douma, saying that the government did not have chemical weapons and it would not have been in its interest to carry out such a strike.

The Douma attack triggered missile strikes on Syria by the United States, Britain and France which they said targeted Al Assad’s chemical weapons programme.

Al Assad has recovered swathes of Syrian territory with military backing from Russia and Iran and is now militarily unassailable in the conflict that began in 2011.

Large areas however remain outside his control at the borders with Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.

These include the SDF-held parts of the north and east, and chunks of territory held by rebel forces in the northwest and southwest.

Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Tehran’s influence in Syria, earlier this month said it destroyed dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria, after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time.

Iran-backed militias including Lebanon’s Hezbollah have played a big role in support of Al Assad during the conflict.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have also deployed in the country.

Al Assad said Iran’s presence in Syria was limited to officers who were assisting the Syrian army.

Al Assad, apparently referring to the May 10 attack, by Israel denied Iranian casualities.

Asked if there was anything Syria could do to stop Israeli air strikes, Al Assad said: “The only option is to improve our air defence, this is the only thing we can do, and we are doing that”. He said that Syria’s air defences were now much stronger than before thanks to Russia.

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