As­sad vows to re­take ‘ev­ery inch’ of Syria

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGEN­CIES in Paris

Syrian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad on Thurs­day said Raqa is not a pri­or­ity tar­get for his forces, say­ing his goal is to re­take “ev­ery inch” of Syrian ter­ri­tory.

“Raqa is a sym­bol,” As­sad said in an in­ter­view with French me­dia, while as­sert­ing that ji­hadist at­tacks car­ried out in France were “not nec­es­sar­ily pre­pared” in the Is­lamic State group strong­hold in Syria.

“You have ISIS close to Da­m­as­cus, you have them ev­ery­where,” As­sad said, us­ing an­other acro­nym for the IS.

“Ev­ery­where is a pri­or­ity de­pend­ing on the de­vel­op­ment of the bat­tle,” he said, as a new round of peace talks was set to kick off in the Kazakh cap­i­tal As­tana.

“They are in Palmyra now and in the east­ern part of Syria,” he said in the in­ter­view in Da­m­as­cus with Europe 1 ra­dio and the TF1 and LCI tele­vi­sion chan­nels. “For us it is all the same, Raqa, Palmyra, Idlib, it’s all the same.”

The Syrian leader said it was the “duty of any gov­ern­ment” to re­gain con­trol of “ev­ery inch” of its ter­ri­tory.

Af­ter a string of ma­jor losses in both Iraq and Syria, the ex­trem­ists’ two main strongholds of Mo­sul and Raqa are both un­der at­tack.

Af­ter a mas­sive, four-month cam­paign, Iraqi forces are tight­en­ing the noose on Mo­sul, while in Syria, an ArabKurd al­liance, the Syrian Demo­cratic Forces, has be­gun ad­vanc­ing on Raqa.

While Turkey, Rus­sia and Iran take the lead in the talks in As­tana, the West has be­come “pas­sive”, he said, de­nounc­ing the coali­tion for sup­port­ing “those groups that rep­re­sented the ter­ror­ists against the gov­ern­ment”.

“They did not want to achieve peace in Syria.”

A new round of the As­tana talks was set to kick off on Thurs­day af­ter a one-day de­lay for “tech­ni­cal rea­sons”.

The talks are viewed as a warm-up for UN-led ne­go­ti­a­tions that are due to be­gin in Geneva on Feb 23.

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