Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has been locked in a bloody war for nearly three years, told AFP in an exclusive interview he finds it hard to explain the conflict to his children.
Speaking from the plush surroundings of his presidential palace in Damascus, the Syrian leader appeared at ease, smiling as he spoke.
He said he neither lived nor worked in the vast palace, finding it too large, and preferred to be at his office elsewhere in town, or at home.
“There are a few things that haven’t changed,” he said, when asked how the brutal conflict has changed his daily life.
“I go to work as usual and we live in the same house as before, and the children go to school. These things haven’t changed,” he said in the interview conducted on Sunday.
But he acknowledged that the war had intruded on his family’s life in some ways, adding that “children are affected more deeply than adults in these circumstances”.
“There are questions put to you by children about the causes of what’s happening, that you don’t usually deal with in normal circumstances,” said Assad, a father of three.
“Why are there such evil people? Why are there victims? It’s not easy to explain these things to children, but they remain persistent daily questions and a subject of discussion in every family, including my own.”
He said the war, which has killed more than 130,000 people according to one NGO’s tally, had forced children to “grow up too early and mature much faster”.
And he added that sadness “lives with us every day, all the time, because of what we see and experience, because of the pain, because of the fallen victims everywhere and the destruction of the infrastructure and the economy”.
“This has affected every family in Syria, including my own,” he said.
Assad’s wife Asma was raised in London, where her parents still live, and there have been occasional rumours that she has fled Damascus for Britain.
Assad said he had never considered leaving the country throughout the conflict.