Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called that country’s bloody civil war a “cleansing” during a rare TV appearance today.
Speaking to Addounia, a pro-government TV station, Assad called the 17-month conflict a war of terror and battle of wills.
“The nationalistic and good person does not rebel or go against his nation,” Assad said according to a translation broadcast on NBC News.
He said of the civil war, “Practically, this is a positive action; it is a cleansing of the nation, firstly, and generally.”
The president also said he was aware of many defections and allowed them to happen, Reuters reported.
Defections of high-ranking military and government officials have bolstered the opposition, but Assad countered that it was all part of his plan.
Reuters said thousands of security forces have defected alongside some ambassadors and the former prime minister.
“Sometimes we had information (on defections) and we would discuss it,” Assad said, according to Reuters. “Some would suggest we stop them. But we said no, stopping them isn't the right thing to do ... let’s facilitate their exit.”
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To counter accusations he’s fled to safety, Assad said the interview happened in the presidential palace in Damascus.
However, no time or date reference was provided.
He also said government forces need more time to win the war, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Tens of thousands of civilians and combatants have died since fighting began in spring 2011.
“We are waging a regional and global war that requires time to be concluded,” Assad said, according to the WSJ. “But I can sum up all of this explanation in one phrase: We are making progress, technically the situation is better but the job is not finished and this needs time.”
Assad said he wasn’t troubled by defections of Prime Minister Riad Hijab or Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, a longtime ally and friend.
“The Syrian people do not respect those who flee,” he added, the WSJ said.
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