BEIRUT (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assad said his forces would recapture all of Syria, including Aleppo, in a television interview on Thursday but added he would prefer to do so using local deals and amnesties that would allow rebels to leave for other areas.
According to the transcript of an interview with Denmark’s TV 2, he said there were no moderate rebels and that the United States was using the Nusra Front, which changed its name in July and broke allegiance to al Qaeda, as “a card” in Syria’s war.
Syria’s government, backed by militias from Lebanon and Iraq and by Russia, has already agreed amnesties with rebel fighters in some other areas after long sieges accompanied by intense bombardment, a model some analysts say may be used in Aleppo.
On Wednesday the army said it was reducing air strikes and shelling in Aleppo to alleviate the humanitarian situation. But it also called on all fighters and their families to leave rebel-held parts of the city or face “their inevitable fate”.
The intense bombardment of Aleppo during an army offensive that began two weeks ago has included several strikes on hospitals, residents and medical workers there have said, but Assad denied in the interview any knowledge of such attacks.
“We don’t have a policy to destroy hospitals or schools or any such facility,” he said. “If there’s such an attack from the army, it could be by mistake”.
He said the United States did not have the will to reach a peace agreement that would involve allowing air strikes against Nusra Front, now called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, because the group was its only “concrete and effective card in the Syrian arena”.
The United States has classified Nusra Front as a terrorist organisation and repeatedly warned other rebel groups not to work with it. Washington blamed the collapse of last month’s truce on the Syrian government and Russia.
Reporting By Ellen Francis and Angus McDowall; Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan