Syria's al-Assad praises Russia, Iran for help; rocket kills 5 at fair

By Allen Cone
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks Sunday at the opening of the Foreign and Expatriates Minister Conference in Damascus. Photo by Syrian Arab News Agency/EPA
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks Sunday at the opening of the Foreign and Expatriates Minister Conference in Damascus. Photo by Syrian Arab News Agency/EPA

Aug. 20 (UPI) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday praised his allies, including Russia, Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah, for helping fight terrorists and Western nations' attempts to topple him.

"Our army is making territorial gains every day, week after week, crushing terrorists and clearing lands occupied by them," the president said during a news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates in the capital Damascus.


"We, in cooperation with friends, will continue to squash terrorists wherever they are."

But shortly later Sunday, a rocket struck close to the entrance of Damascus International Fair, the first time for the event since the conflict broke out in 2011. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said five people had died and about a dozen people were injured in the 10-day fair, which started Thursday. The state-run news agency said there were casualties but gave no further details.


Al-Assad had said allied forces' "direct support -- politically, economically and militarily -- has made possible advances on the battlefield and reduced the losses and burdens of war" and fought back against foreign-backed militancy.

"We have managed to foil the Western project," he said. "West is like a chameleon due to its behavior to fit different situations. The psychological war against the Damascus government has failed to discourage us from fighting terrorism or even frighten us. ... We have fought terror since day one, and we will continue to fight it until there is no terrorist in Syria."

He said Syria is rebuilding its economy despite some Western states' support for terrorism in Syria.

"There will be no security cooperation or opening of embassies or role for some states that say they are looking for a solution until they cut off their ties with terrorism in a clear and unambiguous way," al-Assad said.

The president praised Russia's and China's U.N. Security Council vetoes to block resolutions condemning Syrian forces or imposing sanctions on the country. Since 2015, Russia has also been involved in a military campaign.

He also said Syria welcomes Russian-brokered, regional ceasefire deals, and hopes they are extended in other places in Syria.


"We have an interest in the success of this initiative," al-Assad noted.

The president condemned U.S.-backed so-called "safe zones," which he said would only "give cover to terrorists."

Al-Assad described Turkish Recep President Recep Erdogan as a "political beggar after his support for terrorists was exposed. We don't consider the Turkish side to be a partner nor a guarantor nor do we trust it."

And he said any Turkish soldier on Syrian soil will continue to be considered an attacker.

"The Syrian government and moreover many Syrian civilians will not be quick to forgive Turkey for a role in the Syrian conflict viewed as destructive," al-Assad said. "Because it is now a certainty that the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party will remain in power in Damascus, Turkey will likely eventually have to engage in a thaw with the Syrian government simply because Syria is a neighbor to Turkey, but this road may be long."

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Sunday his country is cooperating in establishing peace in Syria.

"We work together to ensure the ceasefire in Syria. We have a goal to make a lasting truce out of the temporary ceasefire," he said in Ankara before departing for Singapore.


Al-Assad said Syria remains committed to fighting Israeli occupation of Syrian territory and continues to be a perennial supporter of Palestinians.

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