BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a Swiss television interview that a photo of a 5-year-old boy covered in dust and blood inside an ambulance that drew worldwide attention was “forged.”
Assad also told state broadcaster SRF that a planned pause in fighting Thursday in the northern city of Aleppo was an important step “but not enough.”
He said civilians want to leave the city but “terrorists” won’t let them.
In the wide-ranging interview in English aired Wednesday and conducted Tuesday, Assad rejected claims that he’s a war criminal, brushed off criticism from US Secretary of State John Kerry, and portrayed the “White Helmets” rescue teams as a “face-lift” of al-Qaeda-linked militants in Aleppo.
Assad rejected the iconic image in August of Omran Daqneesh following an airstrike in Aleppo as “manipulated” and said he would send the journalist conducting the interview photos to prove his claim.
The photo of the stunned and weary looking boy, sitting in an orange chair inside an ambulance was seen as encapsulating the horrors inflicted on the conflicted northern city.
The photo was widely shared on social media and intensified international calls for a ceasefire in the city.
Daqneesh’s older brother, Ali, 10, who was injured along with the rest of the family in the same bombing attack, died days later of his injuries.
The brothers were playing in the street outside when Russian or Syrian warplanes leveled their apartment building in the rebel-held Qaterji neighborhood, their father told the Telegraph newspaper at the time.
Washington dubbed the heart-wrenching image of Omran as “the real face” of the conflict.
Once Syria’s economic hub, Aleppo has been ripped apart by violence since mid-2012, with warplanes bombarding the east and rockets raining down on the west.
Russia has been carrying out air raids in support of President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria since September 2015.
Russia denied that one of its air raids hit the Daqneesh’s home in eastern Aleppo, saying in a statement that its warplanes “never work on targets that are inside settled areas.”
More than 290,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict started in March 2011, while international efforts at putting an end to the war have faltered.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report