Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Wednesday his country was not a breeding ground for the Islamic State group, blaming the creation of the jihadist organisation on the West.
“I can tell you Daesh doesn’t have the natural incubator, social incubator, within Syria,” he said in a television interview with Italian national broadcaster Rai, using the Arabic acronym for the IS group.
Jihadists who trained in Syria for the Paris massacres and other attacks had done so due to “the support of the Turks and the Saudis and Qatari, and of course the Western policy that supported the terrorists in different ways,” he insisted.
IS “didn’t start in Syria, it started in Iraq, and it started before that in Afghanistan,” he said, quoting former British prime minister Tony Blair as saying “the Iraqi war helped create ISIS”.
Blair’s “confession is the most important evidence,” Assad added.
Last week’s deadly Paris attacks, in which 129 people were killed in a wave of shootings and suicide bombings across the French capital claimed by IS, have galvanised international momentum for a diplomatic solution to Syria’s civil war.
More than 250,000 people have died in the conflict and millions have fled, as IS has seized control of large swathes of territory across Syria and Iraq which it rules under its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
But Assad said there could be no transition schedule for elections while parts of the country were still rebel-controlled.
“This timetable starts after starting defeating terrorism. You cannot achieve anything politically while you have the terrorists taking over many areas in Syria,” he said.
“If we talk after that, one year and a half to two years is enough for any transition.”
Assad’s continued grip on power has seriously strained relations between the US and France -- firm backers of Syria’s uprising -- and Russia, one of the regime’s staunchest allies.
But after the Paris massacres and the downing of a Russian airliner in a bomb attack also claimed by IS, the countries have joined forces against the jihadists, diverting attention at least momentarily from the question of Assad’s future.
In a fierce retaliation, Russian and French air strikes in Syria were reported to have left 33 IS fighters dead in 72 hours.
A US-led air coalition has been waging an air war against IS for more than a year, with French strikes in Syria beginning in September. Moscow launched its own air strikes in Syria, in coordination with Assad, on September 30.