Middle East will be destroyed if Isil not stopped, says Assad
The whole of the Middle East will be "destroyed" if the coalition between Syria, Russia, Iran and Iraq fails in its bombing campaign against Isil, President Bashar al-Assad warned last night.
In an interview with Iran's Khabar TV, Assad also accused Western nations of fuelling the refugee crisis and said the US-led coalition to fight the Islamic State group would only spark more instability in his country and the region.
The comments were Assad's first public statement since Russia launched its air campaign against multiple armed groups in Syria last Wednesday.
While Isil controls large swathes of eastern Syria, the Russian attacks have largely focused on the northwestern and central provinces - the gateways to the heartland of Assad's power in the capital and on the Mediterranean coast.
A suicide attack yesterday in Homs city, which is controlled by the government, killed one person and injured 18 others, state TV said. Isil claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement circulated by supporters on Twitter.
This is the first such attack by the militant group in Homs following the start of the Russian campaign, which has hit parts of the province controlled by rebel groups. But an ancient town in Homs province, which is controlled by Isil, was spared.
Assad said that the Russian campaign had the potential to succeed because it is supported by Iran and has international, if not Western, support. He called on countries that support the armed opposition to stop, adding that this would increase the chances of the campaign succeeding.
"It must succeed or we are facing the destruction of a whole region and not a country or two," he said. "The chances for success are large, not small."
He said the Russian intervention was open-ended and had been planned in co-operation with the Syrian military.
Syria's war is entering its fifth year, with at least 250,000 people killed and half of the pre-war population on the move, creating four million refugees and eight million people internally displaced.
Assad has accused Western countries, neighbouring Turkey and some Gulf states of fuelling the war by supporting the armed opposition, all of which he calls terrorists.
Militant groups Isil and al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, are among the strongest groups operating in Syria. But there are dozens of other rebel groups, some western-backed and armed, fighting against Assad and Isil.
Assad said combating terrorism was "the basis for any solution in Syria."
He continued: "The only solution for us is to strike at terrorism. Implementing any solution or political ideas agreed upon will need a state of stability. Otherwise it will have no value."
Russia said it launched its campaign to target Isil and other terrorists groups, but some of the targets so far have included Western-backed groups.
On the fifth day of the air campaign yesterday, Russia said its warplanes had carried out 20 missions in the past 24 hours, attacking Isil positions in the northwestern province of Idlib.
Assad said the US-led coalition against Isil had failed to achieve any results.
"I don't think that coalition will achieve anything except a certain balance between those forces on the ground to keep the fire raging."
He said the West's failure to achieve its goals in Syria had forced it to change its positions on excluding him from a future political settlement.
In recent weeks, some European officials said Assad must be part of a negotiated settlement - a position rejected by the Syrian opposition, the US and its Gulf allies.
Assad said it was up to the Syrian people to decide who rules the country, not foreign leaders.