Syrian army making advances since Russian airstrikes began – Assad

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with a journalist from the Chinese Phoenix Television Channel in Damascus, in this handout picture provided by SANA on November 22, 2015 © SANA
Russian airstrikes have shifted the tide in Syria and, thanks to them, the army is now gaining at the terrorists’ positions, Syrian President Bashar Assad said. He added that the militants are supported from abroad, primarily by “Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”

READ MORE: No political transition in Syria until terrorists are destroyed – Assad

“Recently, after the participation of the Russian air forces in fighting terrorism, the situation has improved in a very good way, and now I can say that the army is making advancement in nearly every front,” the Syrian president told China’s Phoenix TV Channel.

Assad also pointed out that over the past year terrorists managed to capture more Syrian territories and gained more recruits from all over the world despite US-led coalition’s airstrikes. While in contrast to that, only a month of the Russian air operation forced many terrorists to retreat and flee Syria for Turkey, Europe, Yemen and elsewhere.

“You cannot fight terrorism through air raids. You need troops on the ground. The Americans only fight through their airplanes,” the president said.

“What about the Russians? They are depending on the Syrian troops on the ground. They are cooperating with us. So, the difference, the main difference, is that the Americans don’t cooperate with any ground troops, while the Russians are doing this,” he added.

President Assad also said that there is no tangible opposition group in Syria – there are just militants and terrorists.

“It [opposition] is a political term, not a military term. Whenever you hold a machinegun, you are a militant, you are a terrorist, whatever you want, but you cannot call “opposition” people who hold machineguns or any kind of armaments,” he said.

READ MORE: Russia & US must join forces against ISIS, 'address root causes of terrorism' – UN Sec Gen

At the same time, Assad confirmed that the Russian and the Syrian government have been cooperating with some of the militant groups, which is a part of the nation-wide reconciliation process.

President Assad pointed out, however, that it is impossible to make concrete political steps before defeating the extremists.

“What we are doing in parallel besides fighting terrorism, we need to make the dialogue, but the concrete steps should follow at least a major defeat of the terrorists and the government takes control of a major area that has been captured by the terrorists,” he said.

The Syrian president believes that Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) is strongly dependent on foreign support.

In the interview with the Chinese TV, Assad has alleged that the main IS supporters are Turkey, Saudi Arabia – with its strong “Wahhabi institution” – and Qatar. He described the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan as being “Muslim Brotherhood in his heart.”

Turkish support is especially important for IS because the illegal oil trade – one of the chief sources of revenue for the group – comes through this country.

Assad also blamed western countries for “overlooking of what is going on”.

“Without this logistical space, or let’s say backyard to ISIS, ISIS cannot survive, because it doesn’t have incubation in Syria, it doesn’t have the incubator in Syria,” the president said.

From Assad’s point of view, without foreign support it would take less than a year to defeat IS. Two more years are needed to accomplish the peace process.

READ MORE: Russia ‘must change strategy’ in Syria if it wants to join US-led ‘anti-ISIS’ coalition – State Dept

The war in Syria erupted in 2011 after mass protests which were a part of the so-called Arab Spring. Islamic State took the advantage of the destabilization in Syria and Iraq and gained control over large territories in these countries. On September, 30, Russia launched airstrikes against IS on the Syrian request – a year after the US-led coalition started to bomb this terrorist group.