26 Aug 2015

Syria: Assad casts doubt on anti-Islamic State coalition

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he would consider a coalition against Islamic State, but this would be unlikely to include those backing rebel groups in his country.

Russia, an Assad ally, has proposed that Syria joins Arab countries that support rebels fighting against his rule in an effort to defeat IS, which controls vast swathes of Syria and Iraq.

In an interview broadcast on Tuesday, Assad said the Syrian government would not reject an alliance, though it made no sense that states which backed “terrorism” would now fight “terrorism”. He was referring to countries, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which have supported insurgent groups hoping to topple him.

President Assad told the Lebanese TV station Al-Manar, which is controlled by his Hezbollah allies: “A small possibility remains that these states decided to repent, or realised they were moving in the wrong direction, or maybe for reasons of pure self-interest they got worried that this terrorism is heading towards their countries and so they decided to combat terrorism.

“We have no objection. The important thing is to be able to form an alliance to fight terrorism.”

250,000 deaths

Syria’s four-year civil war has resulted in an estimated 250,000 deaths and shattered the country. It has also led to an exodus of people to neighbouring countries, with many making their way to Europe to escape the violence.

Saudi Arabia has ruled out any coalition with Assad, blaming him for the rise of IS and calling for his removal from power.

Support from Russia, Iran and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah has been vital to Assad during the conflict.

In his interview, President Assad said he was confident Russia and Iran would continue to back him, despite Barack Obama’s recent comment that both countries recognise his regime is under threat.

The west’s nuclear deal with Iran in July has been followed by diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the conflict in Syria.