Syria's Assad Dismisses War Crimes Allegations in Rare Interview, Claims He Is 'Capturing the Hearts of the People'

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has given a rare interview in which he condemned American interference in his country and dismissed well-evidenced allegations of war crimes committed by government forces throughout the country's conflict.

Speaking with the Russian government-owned news website, Assad claimed that he and his Iranian and Russian allies were fighting against terrorist groups, with which the U.S. and its Western partners are working to destabilize the region.

Assad has retained power despite almost eight years of brutal civil war, sparked in 2011 by his government's violent crackdown on protesters demanding democratic reforms.

At one point, Assad appeared to be on the verge of losing the war, but financial, diplomatic and military support from Russia and Iran has helped the president re-establish control over much of the country.

Hundreds of thousands have died in the process. War crimes have been committed regularly by all factions involved in the war. But Assad's access to aircraft, chemical weapons, heavy artillery and an extensive internal security apparatus mean he is able to commit atrocities on a larger scale than most of his enemies.

Despite significant evidence of such crimes, Assad denied responsibility and told RT that such a strategy would be pointless.

"The war in Syria was about capturing the hearts of the people, and you cannot capture the hearts of the people by bombarding them," the dictator explained.

"How could the Syrian people support their state and their president and their army, if they are killing them?"

Assad also used the interview to repeat attacks against President Donald Trump's administration, which he accused of colluding with terrorist groups and retaining troops in Syria in order to loot the country.

Trump abruptly withdrew U.S. troops from positions in the northeast of the country last month, leaving America's Kurdish-led allies—the Syrian Democratic Forces—at the mercy of a Turkish invasion. This forced the SDF to turn to Assad and the Russians for protection, handing over control of much of the area won from Islamic State militants.

But Trump has decided to retain a force in the east of the country, deployed to guard oil fields there. Assad said the decision, while not a surprise, is characteristic of cynical American foreign policy.

"The Americans always try to loot other countries in different ways regarding not only their oil or money, or financial resources," he claimed. "They loot their rights, their political rights, every other right. That's their historical role at least after World War Two."

Assad added that America's unpredictable foreign policy may get worse as Washington attempts to maintain global hegemony and contain nations like Russia and China. Assad claimed America would "fight the Russians, the Iranians, the Syrians, whoever said 'No'."

This may even extend to friends, he continued. "Even their allies if they said 'No'. Like the Western governments, they will fight with them," he speculated.

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A Syrian army helicopter releases barrel bombs over southern Damascus in the area of Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp on April 27, 2018. RAMI AL SAYED/AFP via Getty Images/Getty