The removal of Bashar Assad from power is an Israeli interest and ultimate goal, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday, amid claims that troops loyal to the Syrian president were perpetrating a massacre in Aleppo.

Liberman’s remarks, which constitute an unusual departure from Israel’s policy of nonalignment in Syria, came as he addressed in a Limmud FSU conference on Jewish learning in Eilat.

“Assad is a butcher who has massacred people,” Liberman said. “The State of Israel has said ‘never again,’” he added, quoting a phrase used to reject genocidal policies in the wake of the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its allies against the Jews.

“This massacre, occurring in plain view with chemical weapons, is morally unacceptable,” he said.

But, the defense minister that Assad’s removal was an “ultimate goal” for Israel as opposed to an immediate one.

Syrians are evacuated from a rebel-held area of Aleppo on December 16, 2016. (AFP Photo)

Syrians are evacuated from a rebel-held area of Aleppo on December 16, 2016. (AFP Photo)

Many thousands of people, including a large number of civilians, have been killed during the fierce fighting in Aleppo between Assad’s forces and rebels who have controlled parts of the city for the past four years.

More than 3,000 people were taken out of the fighting zone on the first day of the evacuation on Thursday, but the United Nations said that as many as 50,000 are still trapped, the BBC on Friday.

The US accused the Syrian government of carrying out “nothing short of a massacre” in the city.

“The only remaining question is whether the Syrian regime, with Russia’s support, is willing to go to Geneva prepared to negotiate constructively, and whether or not they’re willing to stop this slaughter of their own people,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

Syria and Russia have repeatedly denied targeting civilians.

Assad on Thursday hailed the “liberation” of Aleppo after more than four years of fighting, saying that history was being made.