LONDON — Syrian President Bashar Assad says Britain’s airstrikes in his country are “illegal”, doomed to fail and will help spread terrorism.
The United Kingdom launched airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria on Thursday, amid a request from French President Francois Hollandefor its allies to do more to combat the extremist group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, following terror attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people. ISIL claimed responsibility for those attacks.
The United States, France and Russia are also bombing militants in Syria, where civil war began in 2011.
In an interview with Britain’s Sunday Times at his palace in Damascus conducted Wednesday, Assad said Britain’s airstrikes in Syria would fail.
“It has to be from the air, from the ground, to have co-operation with troops on the ground — the national troops — for the interference to be legal,” he said. “So I would say they don’t have the will and don’t have the vision on how to defeat terrorism.”
Speaking of Britain’s campaign, he said: “It will be harmful and illegal and it will support terrorism, as happened after the coalition started its operation a year or so [ago] because this is like a cancer.
“You cannot cut out part of the cancer. You have to extract it. This kind of operation is like cutting out part of the cancer. That will make it spread in the body faster.”
Assad said the the discovery by European security officials of plots to commit terror attacks had exposed terrorist sleeper cells. An estimated 5,000-6,000 Europeans have traveled to Syria to join jihadists, EU official Vera Jourova told French newspaper Le Figaro in April.
“How many extremist cells now exist in Europe? How many extremists did you export from Europe to Syria? This is where the danger lies. The danger is in the incubator,” Assad said.
“The Russians can see this clearly. They want to protect Syria, Iraq, the region — and even Europe. I am not exaggerating by saying they are protecting Europe today.”
Russia is a key ally of Syria. Assad said Russia’s involvement in the conflict is legal, and came with Syria’s permission.
Speaking of the West, he said: “If they are ready — serious and genuine — to fight terrorism, we welcome any country of government, any political effort. In that regard we are not radical, we are pragmatic. Ultimately, we want to resolve the situation in Syria and prevent further bloodshed.”
Britain’s Royal Air Force has been bombing ISIL targets in Iraq since 2014. Wednesday’s decision to expand the strikes to Syria came after a 10-hour debate by parliamentarians in the House of Commons.
The United Nations estimates the civil war has killed at least 250,000 people. President Obama says Assad has killed tens of thousands of his own people in the conflict.