Assad blames Europe for refugees flowing out of Syria

Syrian leader accuses West of crying for migrants while ‘aiming gun’ at them; says he won’t step down under pressure

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaking to Russian media outlets RT, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Channel 1, Russia 24, RIA Novosti and NTV channel, September 15, 2015. (Screenshot: RT)
Syrian President Bashar Assad speaking to Russian media outlets RT, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Channel 1, Russia 24, RIA Novosti and NTV channel, September 15, 2015. (Screenshot: RT)

As Europe debates how to deal with growing numbers of his country’s refugees after four years of civil war, Syrian President Bashar Assad said the crisis was the fault of the Continent, saying in an interview aired Tuesday that the West had fueled terrorism that forced millions of Syrians from their homes.

Assad, speaking to Russian media amid a reported buildup of Russian forces in Syria in recent weeks, said he would not be forced from power, and dismissed the refugee crisis as “Western propaganda.”

“Europe is responsible because it supported terrorism, as I said a short while ago, and is still supporting terrorism and providing cover for them,” Assad said.

The embattled leader also called the public outcry over the issue hypocritical.

“Actually, it’s like the West now is crying for the refugees with one eye and aiming at them with a machine gun with the second one.”

“These European double standards are no longer acceptable,” he added.

Assad has long characterized the rebels seeking his ouster as terrorists, and has blamed the West and Sunni countries for backing opposition groups with arms and other support.

Over four years of bloody civil war have forced some 11 million people from their homes, with hundreds of thousands seeking asylum in Europe. Most hope to reach Germany, which wants to see the European Union share the job of resettlement, while Hungary has put up fences to keep migrants out.

On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama said dealing with the crisis would mean the international community would have to tackle its root cause, the Syrian civil war.

But Assad insisted he would not quit, as rebel groups and Western governments demand, as a result of pressure.

“As for the president, he comes to power with the people’s assent through elections, and if he leaves, he leaves if the people demand it, not because of the judgment of the United States, the UN Security Council, the Geneva Conference or the Geneva Communique,” he said.

He said he would only quit if the people wanted him to.

“If the people want him to stay, the president stays. In the opposite case, he should swiftly step down.”

Speaking just hours after Moscow announced it would continue to support the Syrian regime, Assad said he was strengthening ties with old allies and working to build further relationships with other Arab countries.

“Iran supports Syria and the Syrian people. It stands with the Syrian state politically, economically and militarily,” Assad said, referring to the longstanding support he has enjoyed from Iran.

He said recent attacks in the Sinai Peninsula carried out by Salafists who have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group have also increased cooperation with Egypt.

“That’s why I can say that there is joint vision between us and the Egyptians; but our relationship exists now on a security level,” he said.

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