December 18, 2017 / 12:55 PM / a year ago

Syria's Assad calls U.S.-backed militias 'traitors'

File Photo - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as seen in Damascus, Syria November 14, 2017. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday described U.S.-backed militias in eastern Syria as “traitors”, his office said in an online statement.

In a meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin in Damascus, Assad also welcomed a United Nations role in Syrian elections as long as it was linked with Syria’s sovereignty, his office cited him as saying. Assad has repeatedly vowed to take back all of Syria.

A U.S.-led international coalition against Islamic State has given military support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias that now controls nearly a quarter of Syria.

The SDF said Assad’s comments were no surprise, accusing his government of sowing strife and sectarianism. “We assert once again that we will go forward without hesitation in chasing terrorism,” it said in a statement.

“This regime ... is itself a definition of treachery that, if Syrians do not confront it, will lead to partitioning the country, which our forces will not allow in any form,” the Kurdish-led SDF added.

Rogozin was quoted by Russia’s RIA news agency as saying after the meeting with Assad that Russia would be the only country to take part in rebuilding Syrian energy facilities.

(The story corrects meeting location to Damascus from Hmeimin Base in second paragraph.)

Reporting by Sarah Dadouch; editing by Richard Balmforth, Larry King

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