DAMASCUS • President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to recapture the whole of Syria and keep "fighting terrorism" while also negotiating an end to the war, as international pressure mounts for a ceasefire.
His defiant stance, in an exclusive interview with Agence France- Presse released on Friday, doused hopes of an imminent halt to hostilities that world powers are pushing to take effect within a week.
Mr Assad said the main aim of a Russian-backed regime offensive in Aleppo province that has prompted tens of thousands of people to flee was to cut the rebels' supply route from Turkey. He said his government's eventual goal was to retake all of the country, large swathes of which are controlled by rebel forces or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group.
"It makes no sense for us to say that we will give up any part," he said in the interview conducted on Thursday in Damascus, before a plan for a nationwide "cessation of hostilities" in Syria was announced.
Mr Assad said it would be possible to "put an end to this problem in less than a year" if opposition supply routes from Turkey, Jordan and Iraq were severed. But if not, he said, "the solution will take a long time and will incur a heavy price".
He also said he saw a risk that Turkey and Saudi Arabia, key backers of the opposition, would intervene militarily in Syria.
Yesterday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey and Saudi Arabia would support a coalition ground operation and that Riyadh would be sending planes to Turkey to fight extremists. This was as Syrian government forces were poised to advance into the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa province, and allied Russian jets kept up air strikes on rebel-held towns north of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
World powers on Friday announced an ambitious plan to stop fighting in Syria within a week, but doubts have emerged over its viability, especially because it did not include ISIS or the militant organisation Al-Qaeda's local branch.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said there were "no illusions" about the difficulty of implementing a nationwide "cessation of hostilities" as he announced the deal in Munich, Germany, alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Yesterday, Mr Lavrov said the ceasefire had only a 49 per cent chance of succeeding.
Mr Kerry yesterday said Moscow must change its targeting against legitimate opposition groups, at the Munich Security Conference. Calling the situation a hinge point, he urged the world community and Syrians to work towards ending the war.