Assad Says Aleppo Assault Is Springboard to Retake Rest of Syria

  • Syrian forces to target Idlib after Aleppo, Assad Says
  • Assad sees killing or driving enemies to Turkey as only option

The military offensive against Aleppo will allow the Syrian army to make further advances against the government’s enemies in the rest of the country, President Bashar al-Assad told Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda in an interview.

The offensive, backed by Russian air power, Syrian army forces and Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shiite fighters, has emerged as a potential turning point in the 5 1/2-year conflict, which has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced millions. It has also drawn condemnation from the U.S. and its western allies, who have demanded Syria and Russia cease bombing the former commercial capital, where about 250,000 people are trapped.

“It’s going to be the springboard, as a big city, to move to another areas, to liberate other areas from the terrorists,” said Assad, whose government, along with Moscow, have said they won’t stop the campaign until their opponents leave the city. “This is the importance of Aleppo now.”

Once the Syrian army is able to move on from Aleppo, it will focus on the area of Idlib, a transport hub about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of Aleppo near the Syrian-Turkish border. Assad said his forces would show no mercy in a fight to seal Syria’s border with Turkey and cut off his opponents’ supply lines.

“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 -- there’s no other option,” Assad said. “Aleppo is going to be a very important springboard to do this.”

Turkish ‘Invasion’

Assad denounced an August incursion by Turkish troops into northern Syria, which its neighbor justified as a move to clear the area of Islamic State and Kurdish militia forces. The Syrian leader called it an act of “invasion” and reiterated accusations that Turkey is supporting the militants. At the same time he said he looks “positively” on Moscow’s efforts to repair frayed diplomatic ties with Turkey following the latter’s shooting down of a Russian fighter jet near Syria’s border as a positive development.

“The only hope that we have as Syria is that Russia can make some changes in Turkish policy,” Assad said.

As a result of the rapprochement, there may be a meeting soon between a delegation from the Turkish Foreign Ministry and Syrian officials in Damascus, the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported from Ankara Friday, citing sources it didn’t name. While it said the Turkish government denied the report, Ankara has a new strategy for Syria following consultations with Moscow and that it’s focusing on resolving the crisis without demanding Assad’s immediate departure as president.

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