Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied that his regime was committing war crimes in the conflict with rebels, saying the army was engaged in “fighting terrorism”, in an interview with Russian television broadcast Friday.
“We are fighting terrorism. We are implementing our constitution by protecting the Syrian people,” Assad told Russia Today (RT) when asked about accusations Syrian government forces were committing war crimes.
The UN Human Rights Council has created a commission including former war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte to investigate human rights abuses in Syria committed by all sides, although it has yet to gain access to the country.
Assad defended the Syrian army, saying that “if you have an army that committed a crime against its own people, this is devoid of logic because the Syrian Army is made up of Syrian people.”
“The army cannot withstand for twenty months in these difficult circumstances without having the embrace of the public in Syria,” said Assad.
Assad in turn accused the rebels of committing war crimes, noting reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch which he said had found evidence of war crimes by his opponents.
But the UN has also urged probes into a range of alleged atrocities by the government, including the slaughter earlier this year of hundreds of people in the southern Syrian town of Daraya.
Assad sought to back his argument by referring to Russia’s campaign against separatist and Islamist rebels in Chechnya over the last two decades. However Russian rights groups have long accused the Kremlin of committing atrocities in the Caucasus.
“They (Chechen rebels) attacked people in theatres and schools and so on,” said Assad, referring to the deadly hostage sieges at the Moscow Dubrovka theatre in 2002 and a school in Beslan in 2004.
“And the army in Russia protected the people, would you call it war crimes?” he asked.