Western media ‘inflate’ Syria death toll to justify intervention – Assad

The Western media deliberately exaggerate the number of people killed in the Syrian conflict to create a “humanitarian pretext” for a possible intervention in the war-torn country, Syrian President Bashar Assad told Sputnik in an exclusive interview.

The official death toll of the Syrian war is much lower than the numbers presented by the Western media and amounts to “tens of thousands, not… hundreds of thousands,” Assad told Sputnik.

He went on to say that the West adds the number of terrorists and foreign mercenaries killed to the official death toll, to make it higher and create an image of a humanitarian catastrophe of an unprecedented scale.

“So, the numbers that we've been hearing in the Western media during the last six years were not precise, [they were used] only to inflate the number just to show how horrible the situation is, to use it as humanitarian pretext to intervene in Syria,” the president said.

Speaking about chemical weapons allegedly possessed by terrorist groups, Assad said that he is “100 percent” sure that the extremists receive them “directly from Turkey.” He added that “there was evidence regarding this” and “many parties and parliament members in Turkey… questioned the government regarding those allegations.”

He went on to say that Turkey is in fact “the only route for the terrorists to get money, armaments, every logistic support, recruits, and this kind of material” as they “don't have any other way to come from the north.”

He also reiterated his belief that Turkey’s actions in Syria, as well as those of the US, are an “invasion.” He said that such actions violate Syrian sovereignty, and that Damascus cannot simply tell them “they can stay” or “let’s negotiate” after they have entered Syria without official invitation.

“It is your land, you have to defend it, you have to go and fight,” Assad said, adding at the same time that “the priority now is to defeat the terrorists.”

He also emphasized the importance of Syria’s territorial integrity by saying that all issues regarding local self-government and “confederation” should be resolved within the framework of the Syrian legal system after the end of the conflict, and should be based on a broad social consensus.

“Syria is a melting pot of different cultures, different ethnicities, religions, sects, and so on. So, a single part of this social fabric cannot define the future of Syria; it needs consensus. So, … it's better to wait and discuss the next constitution” together with all sections of Syrian society, he said.

At the same time, Assad said that the Syrian government is already cooperating with various factions fighting terrorists on the ground, including the Kurds.

“We always talk with different factions in Syria who are fighting the terrorists, and we had direct contact with the Kurds,” he said.

He went on to say that the Syrian government is ready to cooperate “with any country that is genuinely ready or wants or has the will to fight terrorism,” including Western countries, without exception. “We said, ‘whoever is ready, we are ready.’”

Assad added that Damascus is also ready to work with the US, if it “can change its attitude toward respecting [Syria’s] sovereignty.”

“It is not a personal relation, it is not hate and love; it is in the interests of [the Syrian] people,” Assad said, adding that Syria has to talk with the US “at least to make it refrain from any harmful [actions].”

He also admitted that Damascus had hoped the US attitude towards Syria would change after Donald Trump came to power, and even described the Republican president’s statements as “promising,” but soon became disillusioned with him because “the American officials say something and do something different, they are never committed to their promises or their words.”

“The regime in the United States hasn't changed,” Assad said, adding that “since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has been attacking different countries in different ways without taking into consideration the Security Council or the United Nations.”

The true goal of the US is to destabilize Syria, according to Assad.

“Their aim is to change the government, to topple the government, and to bring their puppets instead, so they will do everything, for them the end justifies the means, no values, no morals at all, anything could happen,” he said.

He also warned that what he called “false flag” incidents and provocations, similar to the one he said took place in the town of Khan Shaykhun, are likely to occur in future to give the US a pretext for an attack.

Speaking about the US strike on the Shayrat airbase that followed the chemical incident in Khan Shaykhun, the Syrian president said that government forces' ability to defend against such attacks had been reduced by terrorist assaults, which destroyed more than 50 percent of the country’s air defense systems.

“At the very beginning of the attacks, [the terrorists] started destroying Syrian air defenses, which has nothing to do with what they called at that time the ‘peaceful demonstrations,’” he said. “Most air defense [systems] were outside the cities in outlying areas, so … they were affected dramatically during the crisis.”

The Syrian leader added that “a huge number” of such systems were targeted, so even though Russian forces have “compensated part of that loss with quality armaments and air defense systems, this is not enough when you talk about [the entire] country.”

Assad said that the Syrian government plans to purchase “more armaments” and is particularly interested in “the last generation of any system,” adding that Syria is currently holding negotiations with Russia concerning arms purchases.

He added, however, that Russia does not regard the Syrian conflict as a “commercial war,” unlike the US.

“When Russia supports our army, it not only protects the Syrian citizens, it also protects the Russian citizens, and I think the European and others,” he said.

Russia looks at this conflict as a war needed to “protect their citizens, our citizens, other citizens,” he added, saying that the position of Russia is a position of a “great country” because the Syrian war is basically “the war of every country that wants to protect its citizens from the terrorists.”