Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad renewed his accusation that Western states including France are supporting "terrorist" groups in his country's conflict, at a meeting on Wednesday with a French parliamentary delegation.
"Several countries in the region and the West, including France, are continuing up until now to support terrorism by giving political cover to terrorist groups in Syria and the region," he told three visiting rightwing legislators, quoted by state news agency SANA.
Assad said terrorism was "the main cause of the suffering of the Syrian people… along with the embargo imposed on Syria", warning that it was "an international phenomenon which no border can prevent from spreading".
Syrian authorities classify all opponents of the regime, including the Western-backed so-called “moderate” rebels, as terrorists.
Adopting a tough line on Syria's conflict that has cost more than 250,000 lives since 2011, French President Francois Hollande said last week, "Nothing must be done to bolster Bashar Al-Assad, who is the problem, and cannot therefore be the solution."
In September, French authorities launched a criminal probe of Assad's regime for alleged war crimes committed between 2011 and 2013.
The investigation is focusing on evidence provided by a former Syrian army photographer known by the codename "Caesar," who defected and fled the country in 2013, bringing with him some 55,000 graphic photographs of scenes from the brutal conflict.
But with pressure mounting within France to soften the position on Assad and seek a compromise, opposition lawmaker Jean-Frederic Poisson, part of the delegation which arrived in Damascus late Tuesday, said any settlement "necessarily requires a dialogue with the Syrian president".
Those remarks reflected a recent shift in France’s stance, which said it will not demand Assad’s departure as a precondition for peace talks.