Assad says Russian alliance is only hope to save region

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has warned the Middle East faces destruction unless a coalition including Russia, Iran and Iraq succeeds in destroying what he calls terrorist groups.

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Mr Assad has described the United States-led coalition and its air strikes in Syria as counterproductive.

Naomi Selvaratnam reports.

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Speaking for the first time since Russia began air strikes in Syria, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has told Iranian state television Russia, Iran and Iraq are united in beating terrorism.

(Translated)”This coalition has to succeed. Otherwise, we will witness the destruction of the entire region. We are sure this coalition will be successful. If the countries supporting terrorism take part sincerely in the fight against terrorism, or at least stop supporting terrorist organisations, we will see our expected results in practice.”

Mr Assad says the air strikes in Syria and Iraq by the United States-led coalition, which includes Australia, are only enabling the further spread of terrorism in the region.

His remarks come after a fifth day of Russian air strikes, with a senior Russian officer claiming jets based in western Syria have carried out more than 60 attacks in the past three days.

Russia maintains it is targeting the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or IS, but the strikes have predominantly been focused on areas not held by IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond insists Russia is deliberately targeting groups opposed to the Assad government.

“Assad, with his barrel bombs and his chemical weapons and his wholesale slaughter of civilians, is the recruiting sergeant for ISIL, and Russian support for him will drive the opposition in Syria into the arms of ISIL, strengthening the evil that Putin says he wants to defeat.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan agrees the Russian air strikes are unacceptable and says they may only further isolate Russia in the region.

(Translated)”The latest steps taken by Russia, and its air strikes in Syria, are unacceptable for Turkey under any circumstances. I conveyed our stance to Mr Putin, both when I went to Moscow and when we had a conversation a couple of days ago. Russia is making a grave mistake, and this mistake could be a step that might isolate Russia in the region.”

Syrian rebel leader Bashar al Zoubi says the impact of the Russian air strikes is being strongly felt across the country — and the world.

(Translated)”First of all, Russia is losing trust in the international community. Secondly, it is delaying the political solution. As we have seen lately, there has been an agreement among all the political and military factions stating the political solution should not include Assad. And, thirdly, Russian intervention is triggering extremism in Syria. As you have seen, the Russian air strikes did not target ISIS. Instead, they attacked Free Syrian Army components.”

Meanwhile, the US-led coalition has carried out 16 more air strikes against IS militants, weapons and buildings in Syria and Iraq over the weekend.

After more than four years of civil war in Syria, more than 240,000 people have died.