Al-Assad: West negotiates with Syria as it publicly condemns regime

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has called the West two-faced in its relations with Syria, accusing the US and European nations of negotiating behind closed doors while publicly attacking the actions of his government.

"This is the double standard of the West in general," al-Assad said in an interview with Australian broadcaster SBS, which aired on Friday. "They attack us politically and they send us their officials to deal with us under the table."

Western powers, including the United States, have repeatedly called on al-Assad to step down as the five-year, multi-sided conflict in Syria drags on.

In the interview conducted in Damascus, al-Assad said he had no direct talks with the US, instead speaking of indirect "back channel" talks.

The leader criticized US policies in Syria, where Washington is leading an air campaign against the Islamic State extremist group, as well as its policies in Yemen, Iraq and Libya.

"They only created chaos," al-Assad said. "So, if the United States wants to create more chaos ... it can create chaos, but can they solve the problem? No."

In September, Russia started an air campaign in Syria in support of al-Assad, tipping the balance on the ground in favour of his forces. 

"When the Russian air support started, only at that time ... ISIS stopped expanding," al-Assad said, using an acronym for the Islamic State extremist militia.

Al-Assad also criticized British officials in the wake of last week's referendum to leave the European Union.

"Those officials who used to give me the advice about how to deal with the crisis in Syria ... [have] proven ... to be disconnected from reality," he said.

Responding to condemnation from Australian officials, al-Assad said: "Our army is fighting terrorists, our government is against terrorists, the whole institutions are against terrorists. If you call fighting terrorism butchery, that's another issue."   

He also had a message for Australians, who may think about coming to Syria to fight.

"If there are foreigners coming without the permission of the government, they are illegal, whether they want to fight terrorists or want to fight any other one," he said.

The multi-sided conflict in Syria began in March 2011 with peaceful anti-government protests that soon devolved into a full-blown war that has displaced half of the country's pre-war population of 22.4 million and, according to the UN, left at least 250,000 dead.

At least 4,900 people - among them 1,200 civilians - were killed in Syria's violence in June, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Friday.

The watchdog also reported that a Syrian warplane crashed north east of Damascus on Friday and its pilot was later killed by opposition rebels after capturing him.

The crash was probably due to a technical failure, the Observatory added.

Jaish al-Islam, an alliance of Islamist rebels active in the area, claimed in an online statement to have downed the plane and showed a picture of what it claimed was its pilot.  

The group did not say what type of weapon had been used in the alleged downing.

The Syrian Army said in a statement that the killing of pilot Lieutenant Colonel Nawras Hassan was an appalling crime and vowed that it will not pass unpunished.

The army condemned the crime as "a cowardly act that runs counter to all international and humanitarian conventions and laws in treating captives."

The statement said that Hassan managed to land with a parachute in an area controlled by "Jaish al-Islam terrorists" after his warplane, which was on a training mission, crashed in the eastern countryside of Damascus due to a technical failure.

The army vowed that "Jaish al-Islam terrorist group will be severely punished for this heinous crime, affirming that the Syrian army will continue to strike terrorism until restoring security and stability to the entire Syrian soil."

Last update: Fri, 01/07/2016 - 21:44

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