Aleppo must be ‘cleaned’, declares Assad, amid outcry over bloody siege

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Syrian president gives unrepentant interview vowing to use shattered city as springboard to push terrorists back to Turkey or kill them

Syrias president, Bashar al-Assad, has spoken of cleaning the besieged city of Aleppo, where a quarter of a million people are caught under heavy bombardment by his governments forces, and using it as a springboard for winning the countrys war.

With Britain leading international outcry over the regimes campaign against rebels in Aleppo and Russias backing for it, Assad declared that victory in the strategic city would allow the Syrian army to liberate other areas of the country from terrorists.

Speaking to Russias Komsomolskaya Pravda, Assad said Aleppo was effectively no longer Syrias industrial capital but taking back the city would provide important political and strategic gains for his regime.

Its going to be the springboard, as a big city, to move to other areas, to liberate other areas from the terrorists. This is the importance of Aleppo now, Assad said.

You have to keep cleaning this area and to push the terrorists to Turkey to go back to where they come from, or to kill them. Theres no other option. But Aleppo is going to be a very important springboard to do this move.

Rescue workers have said that Syrias military backed by Russian warplanes killed more than 150 people in eastern Aleppo this week, in support of its offensive against the city. Air strikes killed 13 people on Thursday in the rebel-held Aleppo districts of al-Kalaseh, Bustan al-Qasr and al-Sakhour, according to a civil defence official.

Rising casualties in Aleppo, where many buildings have been reduced to rubble or are lacking roofs or walls, have prompted an international outcry and a renewed diplomatic push, with talks between the United States and Russia planned for Saturday.

Syrian government forces have encircled the eastern half of Aleppo, besieging over a quarter of a million people who they say are being used as human shields by terrorists. The siege has caused an international outcry with a number of countries and groups accusing Syria and Russia of war crimes in connection with attacks on medical facilities and aid convoys.

Amid wrangling over how an international coalition might intervene to stop the Assad regimes bombardment of Aleppo, without coming into direct conflict with Russian forces, the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said on Thursday: We cannot just see Aleppo pulverised in this way. We have to do something Whether that means we can get a coalition for a more kinetic action now I cannot prophesy. But what most people want to see now is a new set of options.

European Union foreign ministers drafted a statement accusing Syria and its allies of violence that may amount to war crimes.

As the air strikes and shelling of Aleppos east intensified after a brief period of relative calm, Syrias government approved a United Nations plan to allow aid convoys into the most besieged areas of Syria, with the exception of Aleppo.

Assad said in the Russian interview that Saudi Arabia had offered to help his government if it agreed to cut ties with Iran, one of Syrias main allies.

He said the Saudis told him: If you move away from Iran and you announce that you disconnect all kinds of relations with Iran, were going to help you. Very simple and very straight to the point.

Syrias civil war, now in its sixth year, has killed 300,000 people and left millions homeless while dragging in regional and global powers as well as inspiring jihadist attacks abroad.

Assad is backed by the Russian air force, Irans Revolutionary Guards and an array of Shia militias from Arab neighbours, while Sunni rebels seeking to oust him are backed by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.

Assad also told the Russian newspaper that the countrys civil war had become a conflict between Russia and the west.

What weve been seeing recently during the last few weeks, and maybe few months, is something like more than cold war, Assad said.

I dont know what to call it, but its not something that has existed recently, because I dont think that the west and especially the United States has stopped their cold war, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

With Reuters and the Associated Press

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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