British Foreign Minister Slams ‘Delusional’ Assad

The British government has branded Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "deluded", following an interview in which the dictator claimed the death toll in Syria had been "exaggerated" and dismissed widespread evidence that his forces were using indiscriminate weapons against civilian population centers.

In the interview, conducted in Damascus with the BBC, Assed also claimed his regime was being informed about US-led air strikes against jihadists in Syria and that the raids could help his government if they were "more serious".  

A US-led coalition began carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) Islamist group in Syria on September 23, but it has pointedly refused to coordinate with Damascus.

Assad confirmed there was no cooperation with the coalition, members of which he accused of backing "terrorism" in an apparent reference to their support for other rebels fighting to overthrow him.

"There's no direct cooperation" with the coalition, which includes several Arab governments as well as Washington, Assad said.

However, "sometimes, they convey a message, a general message." 

"There is no dialogue. There's, let's say, information, but not dialogue," he said.

Assad said communication was through third parties, including neighboring Iraq, where Washington and Western allies are also carrying out strikes against ISIS.  

"More than one party, Iraq and other countries. Sometimes they convey messages, general messages. But there's nothing tactical."  

Assad said the strikes had the potential to help his government, but that so far they were not sufficiently "serious" to do so.  

"Yes, it will have some benefits, but if it was more serious and more effective and more efficient," Assad said. "It's not that much."

Also in the interview, he denied his forces were using so-called barrel bombs – crude unguided munitions packed with explosives and shrapnel that are generally dropped by helicopter, which have been blamed for the deaths of thousands of civilians.

Assad dismissed such claims as a "childish story".  

"I haven't heard of (the) army using barrels, or maybe cooking pots," he said, laughing.

"We have bombs, missiles and bullets," he added, dismissing claims his forces were using indiscriminate weapons.

"There are no indiscriminate weapons. When you shoot, you aim, and when you shoot, when you aim, you aim at terrorists in order to protect civilians."  

Assad also denied claims of using chemical weapons against his own people in August 2013, in an attack outside Damascus that killed up to 1,400 people.  

"Who verified who threw that gas on who?" he said.    Asked if his government was responsible, he said "definitely not," adding the reported death toll was "exaggerated."    

He also said his forces were "definitely not" using chlorine as a weapon. 

But British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond rejected any form of dialogue with Damascus and said Assad's denial of the use of barrel bombs showed he was either "deluded or lying".

"There can be no doubt that he is the problem, not part of the solution," Hammond said in a statement.  

"The UK's position has not changed, we have no dialogue with Assad; there must be a political transition to a future in which Assad has no part."  

Since Syria gave up its chemical arsenal in a Russian and US-brokered deal after the 2013 attack, there have been persistent reports of the use of chlorine gas.

In many of those instances, residents reported hearing helicopters, suggesting the involvement of government forces.

More than 210,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.  

Two rounds of UN-sponsored talks in Switzerland have failed to achieve progress, but envoy Staffan De Mistura was in Damascus for new talks on Tuesday.  

He is expected to discuss his plan for a "freeze" of fighting in the northern city of Aleppo, where government troops have nearly encircled the rebel-held east.

AFP contributed to this report.


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