Assad says he's ready for ceasefire in Syria

Policemen and people at the site of a twin car bomb attack in the city of Homs, Syria, yesterday. The attack killed 46 people.
Policemen and people at the site of a twin car bomb attack in the city of Homs, Syria, yesterday. The attack killed 46 people.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

His condition is that 'insurgents' and supporters mustn't exploit it

BEIRUT/MADRID • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he is ready for a ceasefire in Syria, on condition that “terrorists” do not use a lull in fighting to their advantage and that countries backing insurgents halted support for them.

His comment came as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group yesterday claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in the Syrian cities of Homs and Damascus that left about 90 people dead, media reported.

ISIS said it organised bomb attacks that killed at least 30 people yesterday in a southern district of Damascus where a Shi’ite shrine is located, the Amaq news agency, which supports the militant Sunni group, reported.

The agency said two ISIS suicide bombers blew themselves up in the Sayeda Zeinab district after detonating a car bomb. Witnesses and a monitoring group reported four bomb blasts.

The bombings in Damascus occurred just a few hours following twin blasts that claimed at least 57 lives in Homs, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

More than 100 people were injured in the twin bomb attacks in the Al-Zahraa district, the monitor said.

The attacks took place as world powers push for a break in fighting that was meant to go into effect by last Friday, but have struggled to agree how to implement it.

“We have said that we are ready to stop military operations, but the issue relates to more important factors... such as preventing terrorists from using it to improve their positions,” Mr Assad told Spanish newspaper El Pais in an interview.

He also said any truce must ensure that “other countries, especially Turkey, are prevented from sending more terrorists and weapons, or any kind of logistical support”.
Damascus refers to all insurgents fighting against the Syrian army and its allies as terrorists.

The Syrian opposition also said it had agreed to the “possibility” of a temporary truce, provided there were guarantees Damascus’ allies – including Russia – would cease fire, sieges were lifted and aid deliveries were allowed countrywide.

Turkey, other Sunni regional powers and Western countries have supported insurgents fighting against Mr Assad, whose forces are bolstered by Iran, Russia and Lebanese Hizbollah.

Asked about the possibility of Turkey and Saudi Arabia sending ground forces into Syria, Mr Assad said: “We’re going to deal with them like we deal with the terrorists.

We’re going to defend our country. This is aggression.”

Mr Assad also said he would like to see himself as the person who saved Syria 10 years from now.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that a provisional agreement had been reached with Russia on the terms of a ceasefire in Syria.

After having spoken with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov by telephone, Mr Kerry said: “We have reached a provisional agreement, in principle, on the terms of the cessation of hostilities that could begin in the coming days.”

Speaking in Amman, Mr Kerry said the international community was “closer to a ceasefire today than we have been”.

Attempts to negotiate a truce in Syria in recent months have failed.

World powers agreed in Munich on Feb 12 to a cessation of hostilities that would let humanitarian aid be delivered in Syria. The ceasefire was scheduled to start a week later, but did not take effect.

Syrian army offensives continue unabated across the country, backed by Russian air strikes.

Mr Assad said last week he would keep “fighting terrorism” while peace talks took place, vowing to retake the whole country.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2016, with the headline 'Assad says he's ready for ceasefire in Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe