Assad: There are no Iranian forces in Syria
Speaking in an interview with Kremlin-backed Russia Today news channel, Syrian president accuses Israel of propagating ‘lies’ about Iranian military entrenchment on his territory, adding ‘we would not be ashamed to say if there were' and insisting ‘not a single Iranian’ was killed in Israel’s recent retaliatory aerial strikes.
“Israel is attacking us, but we are only becoming stronger and improving our defenses even more,” he said in an interview with Russia Today. “That is the only way to stop the Israeli attacks, and we are doing that.”
Assad said Iran's presence in Syria was limited to officers who were assisting the Syrian army. Apparently referring to the May 10 attack by Israel, the Syrian president said "we had tens of Syrian martyrs and wounded soldiers, not a single Iranian" casualty.
However, Iran-backed militias, including Lebanon's Hezbollah terror group, have played a big role in support of Assad during the conflict. Iran's Revolutionary Guards have also deployed in the country.
Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Tehran's influence in Syria, earlier this month said it destroyed dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria, after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli territory for the first time.
“Iran helps us, but there are no Iranian forces among us. There never have been. That can’t be hidden. We wouldn’t be ashamed to say if they were. Just as we invited the Russians, we could have invited the Iranians,” he continued.
The Syrian leader also referred to what he described as the Israeli “lie” on the Iranian issue.
“In the attack a few weeks ago, they said they had attacked Iranian bases … How can they say this? It’s a lie.”
Regarding the United States and its role in the conflict that began in 2011, Assad said it should learn the lesson of Iraq and withdraw from Syria, and promised to recover areas of the country held by US-backed militias through negotiations or force.
The government, he said, had "started now opening doors for negotiations" with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish dominated militia alliance that controls parts of northern and eastern Syria where US forces are stationed.
"This is the first option. If not, we're going to resort to ... liberating those areas by force. We don't have any other options, with the Americans or without the Americans," he said. "The Americans should leave, somehow they're going to leave".
"They came to Iraq with no legal basis, and look what happened to them. They have to learn the lesson. Iraq is no exception, and Syria is no exception. People will not accept foreigners in this region anymore," he said.
Responding to US President Donald Trump's description of him as "Animal Assad", the Syrian leader said: "What you say is what you are". Trump called Assad an animal after a suspected poison gas attack on a rebel-held town near Damascus in April.
Assad reiterated the government's denial that it carried out the attack in the eastern Ghouta town of Douma, saying that the government did not have chemical weapons and it would not have been in its interest to carry out such a strike.
The Douma attack triggered missile strikes on Syria by the United States, Britain and France which they said targeted Assad's chemical weapons program.
Assad also said that Russia “deterred the United States from carrying out a wide scale attack in Syria last week. The US and its puppets in Europe promote the terror in our region. The American must leave the area and, indeed, they will leave,” he continued.
Russia, Assad claimed, had single handedly prevented a direct military confrontation between Moscow and the US on Syrian soil.
“We were very close to a direct conflict between Russian and American forces, and luckily for us it was prevented—not because of the wisdom of the American leadership but thanks to the wisdom of the Russian leadership,” Assad said.
“We do need Russian help , but at the same time we need to avoid American stupidity in order to stabilize our country.”