Assad chides West over refugee crisis as air war heats up



DAMASCUS, SYRIA- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has chided Western nations for "crying" over refugees flooding into Europe, claiming that their support for "terrorists" lies at the roots of his country's crisis.
His remarks, on the eve of the UN peace envoy's visit to Damascus, came as Australia said it had joined the US-led air war against the Islamic State group in Syria, and France said it would as well.



Washington, meanwhile, told close Damascus ally Moscow that Assad has no role in the war against IS in Syria and must step down to allow a political settlement.
Assad, according to a transcript made available Wednesday, said refugees were leaving Syria "mainly because of the terrorists and because of the killing, and second because of the results of terrorism".
"When you have terrorism, and you have the destruction of the infrastructure, you won't have the basic needs of living.
"So, the West is crying for them, and the West is supporting terrorists since the beginning of the crisis when it said that this was a peaceful uprising," Assad said.
- 'Stop supporting terrorists' -
"If you are worried about them, stop supporting terrorists."
Damascus labels all those involved in the war against Assad as "terrorists", including Western-backed rebels.
Assad also said Iran's support was essential for his regime in a conflict that has cost more than 240,000 lives since 2011.
"Iran supports Syria and the Syrian people. It stands with the Syrian state politically, economically and militarily."
He said it was untrue that "Iran has sent an army or armed forces to Syria" but "it sends us military equipment, and of course there is an exchange of military experts between Syria and Iran".
Iranian media run regular reports on fighters killed in Syria, saying they are volunteers helping to defend Shiite holy sites there.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that Russia's backing for Assad risked further escalating the conflict.
In Sydney, meanwhile, Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said Australian warplanes had carried out their first strike against IS in Syria, destroying an armoured personnel carrier on Monday.
Australia joined the US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq last year.
The United States, Canada, Turkey and Gulf states have already been involved in strikes in Syria, while France has been carrying out surveillance flights in preparation to do so as well.
In Paris, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France would extend its strikes to Syria "in the coming weeks".
He said on Tuesday IS had made "very significant progress" in Syria, and that if a large offensive underway in the northern province of Aleppo is successful, it "would wipe out what we still call the Free Syrian Army or the national Syrian coalition, or what is left of it".
But on Wednesday the US military said only "four or five" of the first 54 graduates of a special training programme remain in the fight after many were attacked in July.
- US-Russia talks -
UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura will visit Damascus on Thursday to discuss peace "ideas" with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.
A senior official told AFP "Syria expects answers to questions" during their meeting.
A diplomat in Syria said the regime is insisting that the "fight against terrorism" be a part of the political process.
In Washington, Kerry said Russia has proposed a "military-to-military conversation and meeting" on the conflict, in remarks a day after holding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Earlier, he insisted Assad has no role in coalition operations against IS and must step down to allow a political settlement.
Referring to the US-led coalition, "of which Assad could never be a credible member", he said Washington would "welcome a constructive Russian role".
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also took aim at Russia over its military buildup and called on big powers to unite behind peace efforts.
"I am concerned by the parties arming and providing arms," Ban said. "There is no military solution -- only a political solution."
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said he would travel to Moscow next week for talks with President Vladimir Putin on Russia's support for Damascus and "threats" facing Israel.
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Thursday, September 17th 2015
AFP
           


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