Syria must 'eradicate terror' for political deal: Bashar al-Assad

AFP  | Deccan Chronicle

World, Middle East

Assad emphasised the need for greater security

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meeting with a Russian delegation of parliamentarians in Damascus. (Photo: AFP)

Damascus: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Monday his country must "eradicate terrorism" to find a political solution to its civil war, as he reportedly expressed a willingness to hold new elections.

Meeting with a Russian parliamentary delegation as Moscow steps up efforts for a political deal, Assad emphasised the need for greater security.

"The eradication of terrorist organisations will lead to the political solution that Syria and Russia seek and that will satisfy the Syrian people and preserve Syria's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity," state news agency SANA quoted Assad as saying.

The visit by Russian lawmakers came just days after Assad's own surprise trip to Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin.

That trip and ramped-up Russian diplomacy following it have led to speculation that Moscow is pushing for a new political agreement to end the conflict that began with protests against Assad's rule in March 2011.

But the shape of any such deal remains unclear, with Syria's opposition firmly against Moscow leading peace efforts while pursuing an air campaign it launched in support of Assad on September 30.

A member of the Russian delegation said on Monday that Assad had expressed a willingness to hold new parliamentary and Presidential elections, and would run again as President.

"He is ready to conduct elections with the participation of all political forces who want Syria to prosper," Russian lawmaker Alexander Yushchenko said on phone from Damascus.

Assad said he was ready to take part in the polls "if the people are not against it," Yushchenko added.

Opposition dismisses new vote

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that Syria needed to begin preparing for new elections.

Syria last held parliamentary elections in May 2012, and is due to hold its next legislative vote in 2016.

But a Presidential vote was held just in June last year, with Assad re-elected for a seven-year term with 88.7 percent of the vote.

That election was dismissed as a "farce" by the opposition and its supporters, with voting held only in government-controlled areas and millions of the displaced and refugees unable to vote.

It is unclear whether new elections could be held under different circumstances, and Syria's opposition has already said holding a vote now would be absurd.

"The Russians are ignoring the real facts on the ground, with millions who have been displaced inside and outside Syria, where cities are destroyed every day," said Samir Nashar of the Syrian National Coalition opposition group.

"What elections are they talking about holding under such circumstances?"

Rebel forces were equally dismissive of Lavrov's offer Saturday of Russian support for "patriotic" opposition forces fighting against the Islamic State group.

While Russia says its aerial campaign launched last month is targeting ISIS and other "terrorists," moderate and Islamist rebels say they have been the real focus, not the terrorists.

"Russia is bombing the Free Syrian Army and now it wants to cooperate with us?" said Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Saoud, a spokesman for Division 13, a Western-backed rebel group.

HRW urges Russia investigate raid

Russia's strikes have allowed Syrian regime forces to launch ground operations in several provinces, including Aleppo, where clashes continued on Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said some 43 regime forces and 28 ISIS fighters had been killed in the last 48 hours in the province, fighting for control of a key government supply route cut by the terrorists on Friday.

Elsewhere, the Observatory said Russian war planes had carried out strikes in Hama province, where Syrian regime forces are trying to secure part of the Aleppo-Damascus highway.

Human Rights Watch meanwhile urged Russia on Sunday to investigate two air strikes in Homs province that killed 59 civilians earlier this month.

The group said the two strikes on October 15 were believed to be Russian and had killed at least 32 children.

And in Israel, the army said an Arab Israeli had crossed into Syria using a paraglider, apparently intending to join opposition forces.

The army said the man had taken off from the southern section of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, adjacent to southern Syria.

Some 45 Arab Israelis have joined terrorist forces in Syria, according to Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency.