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Syria's Assad says next priority is retaking Idlib: Russian media

By AFP 26/7/2018
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on July 26, 2018 shows Syrian army soldiers carrying the national flag in the village of Hamidiya in the southern province of Quneitra. Photo: AFP/HO/SANA
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on July 26, 2018 shows Syrian army soldiers carrying the national flag in the village of Hamidiya in the southern province of Quneitra. Photo: AFP/HO/SANA
MOSCOW - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Russian media on Thursday his regime's next priority would be retaking Idlib province, currently dominated by rebels and jihadists. 

"Now Idlib is our goal, but not just Idlib," Assad said of the northwestern province, in comments carried on Russian newswires.

"There are of course territories in the eastern part of Syria that are controlled by various groups... So we will be moving into all these regions," Assad added. 

"The military -- and it is at their discretion -- will decide priorities and Idlib is one of these priorities," he said.

"Now we have liberated Ghouta, we will finish the liberation of the south-western part of Syria," Assad said.


Related: Rojava Kurds will support Assad in Idlib – if it helps them retake Afrin

Syrian government forces launched an offensive last month backed by Russian planes to retake the south of Syria, including Daraa and Quneitra provinces. 

Russia, Turkey and Iran have held talks under the Astana peace process launched last year and agreed to create four "de-escalation" zones to pave the way for a nationwide ceasefire.

Idlib is part of one such zone. It borders Turkey to the northwest but is otherwise almost totally surrounded by regime territory, prompting fears the government would eventually attack it.

Idlib has received many rebels and their families evacuated from other regions under Russian-brokered "reconciliation deals" that then saw regime forces move in to take rebel-held areas.

According to the United Nations, Idlib's population today stands at 2.5 million -- half of them displaced people.

In the same interview Assad said rescue workers from the White Helmets group would be killed if they did not turn themselves in. 

"Either they can lay down their arms as part of an amnesty ongoing for four or five years, or they will be liquidated like any other terrorist," he said.

Israel on Sunday helped more than 400 people -- opposition-linked White Helmets rescuers and their families -- flee a pocket of southwest Syria as government forces bore down on them. But hundreds more remain trapped in the south, fearing reprisals from approaching regime troops. Damascus accuses the White Helmets of being a front for jihadists. 

Assad also appealed for Syrian refugees, especially those who had their own businesses in the country, to return. 

The war has killed more than 350,000 people since it began in 2011 with a brutal government crackdown on protesters.


Azad | 26/7/2018
The biggest terrorist in Syria has always been Assad. The far majority of civilians killed were killed by Assad. This is a mathematical fact. Noone in the history of the middle east has caused so much suffering. His war crimes are beyond words and Syria will not forget. Assad sounds confident now but so did Saddam after he crushed the shia rebellion in early 1990's - Ten years later he was gone. Anything can happen in Syria in the future. For now arab countries must do more to protect these innocent civilians. Especially countries like Turkey and Jordan who have taken in millions of civilians but there should be no limit to how many lives you save. All civilians who critisized Assad in any way or even documented his war crimes, now face certain deaths if they are not saved from Assad and the animals who support him.
Ibrahim | 27/7/2018
If Assad has any brain cells left he would strike a deal with Kurds in Rojava, he will get and stabilize 70-80% of Syria and get back at Turkey for fuelling and sponsoring the civil war for so many years. All he has to do is grant Kurds autonomy within Syria, that includs Afrin. Kurdish forces are experienced, well disciplined and part of Syria, they would help him crush every last Turkish sponsored jihadist in Idlib or anywhere else. The United States would lose its foothold in Syria, yet another benefit is that Assad will not need Iranian Ayatollahs and their afghani militias anymore, the Iranian controlled militias will bring constant Israeli attacks and headache on Syria. This plan is also good for Russia as they will not need to compete with Iran in Syria anymore, and secure Syria once and for all. The big bonus here is that it will drive Turkey mad, it will be an official autonomy and there's nothing the Turks can do about it. Here is your one golden opportunity Assad, you never know how long the Iranian regime will be around, things can change fast, Saddam didn't have the brains to reach an agreement with Kurds and it cost him everything in the end.
pre-Boomer Marine brat | 27/7/2018
"began in 2011 with a brutal government crackdown" ... Technically, it began long before that. The Syrian military intelligence directorates were utterly vile in their treatment of political opposition, and groups such as Syrian Christians went along, viewing it as "in their best long-term interests" ... It is a very muddy picture, but the list of those who should be pulled apart by horses is already long.
heartofeurope | 27/7/2018
but in idlib are the turks and their allies - hts , etc. In reality russia is all the time fighting against the turkish proxies,mercenaries - also russians died from these fightings. but Putin is also helping, and serving turkey / erdogan in many ways.... so Putin is a deceiver against his owen soldiers, his owen people and of corse against assad....people which means - america is the evil and russia/putin is the good are wrong.... look putins allies and friends - turkey, iran, north korea, china,chechenia/kadirov, syria/assad.... russia is a bad thing and absolutely not trustworthy...Russia is supporting the evil, and also suppress their owen citizens.

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