President Bashar al-Assad has rejected US accusations that Syrian or Russian planes struck an aid convoy in Aleppo, or that his troops were preventing food from entering the city’s rebel-held eastern neighbourhoods, blaming the US for the collapse of a ceasefire many had hoped would bring relief to the war-torn country.
Mr Assad also said deadly US air strikes on Syrian troops last week were intentional, dismissing American officials’ statements that they were an accident.
Mr Assad said the US lacked “the will” to join forces with Russia in fighting extremists.
Mr Assad, who inherited power from his father and is now in his 16th year in office, cut a confident figure during the interview – a sign of how his rule, which once seemed threatened by the rebellion, has been solidified by his forces’ military advances and by the air campaign of his ally Russia, which turned the tables on the battlefield last year.
He said his enemies alone were to blame for nearly six years of devastation across Syria, and while acknowledging some mistakes, he repeatedly denied any excesses by his troops. He said the war was only likely to “drag on” because of continued external support for his opponents.
“When you have many external factors that you don’t control, it’s going to drag on and no one in this world can tell you when” the war will end, he said. He also insisted Syrians who had fled the country could return within a few months if the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar stopped backing insurgents.
He spoke on Wednesday in Damascus’ Muhajireen palace, a white-stone building where he often receives guests. The Syrian capital, seat of Mr Assad’s power, has stayed relatively untouched throughout the conflict, spared the devastation seen in opposition-held areas of the country.
The attack on the aid convoy outside Aleppo took place on Monday night, hitting a warehouse as aid workers unloaded cargo and triggering huge explosions. Witnesses described a sustained, two-hour barrage that included barrel bombs – crude, unguided explosives that Syrian government forces drop from helicopters.
A senior US administration official said America believes that a Russian-piloted aircraft carried out the strike. Mr Assad dismissed the claims.
Russia has denied carrying out the convoy bombing.