Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to recapture the whole of Syria and keep “fighting terrorism” while also negotiating an end to the war, as international pressure mounts for a ceasefire.
His defiant stance, in an interview with the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency, doused hopes of an imminent halt to hostilities, which world powers are pushing to take effect within a week.
Mr Assad said the main aim of a Russian-backed regime offensive in Aleppo province, which has prompted tens of thousands of people to flee, was to cut the rebels’ supply route from Turkey.
He said his Government’s eventual goal was to retake all of the country, large swathes of which are controlled by rebel forces or the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.
“It makes no sense for us to say that we will give up any part,” he said in the interview conducted on Thursday (local time) in Damascus.
Mr Assad said he saw a risk that Turkey and Saudi Arabia, key backers of the opposition, would intervene militarily in Syria.
World powers on Friday agreed to an ambitious plan to cease hostilities in Syria within a week, but doubts soon emerged over its viability, especially because it did not include IS or Al Qaeda’s local branch.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that Mr Assad was “deluded” if he thought there was a military solution to the war in Syria.
‘No illusions’ about implementing ceasefire: Kerry
US Secretary of State John Kerry said there were “no illusions” about the difficulty of implementing a nationwide “cessation of hostilities” as he announced the deal in Munich alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Mr Lavrov underlined that “terrorist organisations” such as IS and Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front “do not fall under the truce, and we and the US-led coalition will keep fighting these structures”.
Russia said its more than four-month-old bombing campaign in Syria targeted IS and other “terrorists”, but critics accuse Moscow of focusing on mainstream rebels.
The Munich deal went further than expected, with Mr Lavrov talking about “direct contacts between the Russian and US military” on the ground, where the powers back opposing sides in the five-year-old conflict.
The 17-nation International Syria Support Group also agreed that “sustained delivery” of humanitarian aid would begin “immediately”.
But after Mr Assad’s forces this month nearly encircled Aleppo, Syria’s second city, several nations put the onus on Moscow to implement the deal.
“Through its military action on the side of Assad’s regime, Russia had recently seriously compromised the political process. Now there is a chance to save this process,” German foreign ministry spokeswoman Christiane Wirzt said.
“What is important now is embracing this opportunity, stopping the air strikes, ceasing targeting civilians and providing humanitarian access,” added Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Twitter.
Question mark over exclusion of rebel groups
Analysts remained sceptical about the chances of ending a war that has killed more than 260,000 people and displaced more than half the population.
“There are huge question marks,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
The failure to include Al Nusra was particularly important, he said, since the group is active in Aleppo and surrounding regions, and many of the more “moderate” rebels have links with it.
“This effectively gives the green light for the Syrian Government and its allies to carry on military action while paying lip service to the agreement,” said Mr Barnes-Dacey.
Peace talks collapsed earlier this month over the offensive on Aleppo, which has forced at least 50,000 people to flee and killed an estimated 500 people since it began on February 1.
A key Syrian opposition body, the High Negotiations Committee, said Friday it was up to rebels on the ground whether to implement the deal.
Mr Kerry said talks between the opposition and the regime would resume as soon as possible, but warned that “what we have here are words on paper — what we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground”.