Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday said that Raqqa is not a priority target for his forces, saying his goal is to retake “every inch” of Syrian territory.
“Raqqa is a symbol,” al-Assad said in an interview with French media, while asserting that militant attacks carried out in France were “not necessarily prepared” in the Islamic State group stronghold in Syria.
“You have ISIS close to Damascus, you have them everywhere,” Assad said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.
“Everywhere is a priority depending on the development of the battle,” he said as a new round of peace talks was to begin yesterday in the Kazakh capital, Astana.
“They are in Palmyra now and in the eastern part of Syria,” he said in the interview in Damascus with Europe 1 radio and the TF1 and LCI television channels. “For us it is all the same, Raqqa, Palmyra, Idlib, it’s all the same.”
The Syrian leader said it was the “duty of any government” to regain control of “every inch” of its territory.
After a string of major losses in both Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State’s two main strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqa are under attack from forces backed by a US-led coalition.
After a massive, four-month campaign, Iraqi forces are tightening the noose on Mosul, while in Syria, an Arab-Kurd alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces, has begun advancing on Raqqa.
Also in the interview, al-Assad categorically denied that his government practices torture and reiterated his rejection of recent allegations by Amnesty International of executions and atrocities perpetrated at a prison near Damascus.
Al-Assad said that Amnesty’s “childish report” contained “not a single fact [or] evidence” to support allegations that about 13,000 people were hanged at the Saydnaya prison between 2011 and 2015.
“They said they interviewed few witnesses, who are opposition and defected. So it’s biased,” al-Assad said.
Regarding torture, he said: “We don’t do this, it’s not our policy,” adding: “Torture for what?... For sadism?... To get information? We have all the information.”
“If we commit such atrocities, it’s going to play into the hands of the terrorists, they’re going to win,” he said. “It’s about winning the hearts of the Syrian people, if we commit such atrocities ... we wouldn’t have [popular] support [through] six years” of war.
Concerning international negotiations to end the conflict that has claimed more than 300,000 lives, al-Assad said Western countries had “lost their chance of achieving anything in Geneva twice.”
While Turkey, Russia and Iran take the lead in the talks in Astana, the West has become “passive,” he said, denouncing the coalition for supporting “those groups that represented the terrorists against the government.”
“They did not want to achieve peace in Syria,” he said.
Russia and Iran have helped turn the tables on the ground with their military backing for al-Assad, while Turkey has supported rebels fighting to oust him.
The talks — pushed by key al-Assad supporter Moscow — are viewed as a warm-up for UN-led negotiations that are due to begin in Geneva on Thursday next week.
The meeting in Geneva, the fifth time negotiators have gone to Switzerland, has been pushed back twice already, in part to give the opposition more time to form a unified delegation.
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500
KEEN INTEREST: India is trying to procure medical gear from domestic producers and abroad, and China has emerged as a possible supplier as its factories reopen India is to buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with COVID-19, a government official said yesterday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment. India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts said the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries such as South Korea and