Hours before truce, Assad vows to retake all of Syria
DAMASCUS - Agence France-Presse
AFP photoSyria’s President Bashar al-Assad vowed to retake all of Syria from “terrorists,” hours before a truce brokered by Russia and the United States was due to take hold on Sept. 12.
Speaking in Daraya, a former rebel stronghold recently surrendered to the government, Assad said “the Syrian state is determined to recover every area from the terrorists,” state media reported.
“The armed forces are continuing their work, relentlessly and without hesitation, regardless of internal or external circumstances,” he said.
Assad made a rare public appearance to celebrate the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday in Daraya, where state media showed him attending prayers at the Saad Bin Moaz mosque.
After years of government siege and fighting, its remaining residents and rebel fighters evacuated the town in late August under a deal with the regime, which has since retaken control.
“After five years, some people still haven’t woken up from their fantasies,” Assad said, referring to the anti-government protests that erupted in Syria in 2011.
“Some were betting on promises from foreign powers, which will result in nothing,” he added.
Rebel fighters said they had been forced to agree the deal with the government after the siege created a humanitarian crisis for Daraya’s remaining residents.
But the government has touted the deal, and other similar agreements, as the best way to achieve local cease-fires and end the violence.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said it would halt offensive operations in line with a U.S.-Russian agreement.
The YPG, which is closely linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and is considered as a terrorist group by Turkey, said in a statement it hoped the agreement would allow efforts to focus on the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and to prepare the necessary conditions for a political transition.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, which includes the YPG, also announced it would abide by the agreement. The SDF and YPG have played a leading role in a U.S.-led campaign against ISIL in Syria.
Other opposition forces, deeply skeptical that Assad’s regime will abide by the agreement, had yet to sign on only hours to go.
“We want to know what the guarantees are,” Salem al-Muslet, a spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, the main opposition umbrella group, told AFP.
“We are asking for guarantees especially from the United States, which is a party to the agreement.”
He said it was unclear how the deal defined the “terrorist” groups that will be targeted, and what the response would be to truce violations.
“We fear that Russia will classify all the Free Syrian Army [FSA] as terrorists,” he said.
Turkey supports FSA fighters as part of the “Euphrates Shield” operation, which aims to clear ISIL and Kurdish forces from the country’s Syrian border.