Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s re-election this week proves that any solution to the country’s conflict “begins and ends” with the embattled leader, Lebanon’s Hezbollah chief said on Friday.
“The elections proved that a political solution in Syria begins and ends with President Bashar al-Assad,” Hassan Nasrallah, a key ally of Assad’s regime, said in a televised address.
Assad won a new seven-year term in the country’s first multi-candidate presidential vote on June 3, taking nearly 90 percent in an election dismissed by the opposition and its international backers as a “farce.”
The opposition says Assad’s departure from office is a condition for any peace agreement, but Nasrallah dismissed that as a possibility.
“There is a president who has been elected by millions for a new seven-year term,” he said.
“Those who want to work for a political solution must talk to him, negotiate with him and reach a solution with him.”
Nasrallah, who has sent Hezbollah fighters to Syria to battle alongside Assad’s regime, called for an end to bloodshed and new negotiations.
“We call on combatants … to move towards reconciliation and dialogue, looking for political exits to stop the bloodshed,” he said.
“This fighting will only increase destruction in your country and add to the bloodshed,” he said, addressing the opposition.
“Everyone should recognise and acknowledge that war in Syria will not lead to others taking control of it.”
Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful protests against Assad’s rule and spiralled into a bloody war that has killed more than 162,000 people.
Nasrallah said Assad’s re-election was a “political and popular declaration of the failure of war,” and said a solution to the conflict required an “end to the support of extremist groups in Syria.”
Syria’s opposition is backed by much of the international community, while Assad’s government is supported by Hezbollah and its backer Iran, as well as Russia.
– ‘Elections of millions’ –
Syria’s opposition includes Islamists and moderates, though extremist groups including Al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria are also fighting the Syrian regime.
Assad’s government and its allies call all those fighting to unseat him “terrorists” even though mainstream rebels have been battling extremists since early January.
Hezbollah has justified its decision to fight alongside the regime in part to prevent extremist groups from entering neighbouring Lebanon.
The group is believed to have lost several hundred fighters in Syria, and Nasrallah addressed the group’s involvement in his comments Friday.
“No one can say ‘you’re fighting against the Syrian people,'” he said.
“You’re fighting alongside and with these millions who went out on election day.”
Nasrallah declared the presidential vote to be the “fruit of military victories and the blood of martyrs.”
He also hit back at US Secretary of State John Kerry, who described the elections as “a great big zero.”
“These are elections of millions, not elections of zero, as some have described it,” Nasrallah said.
Washington and other backers of the opposition have insisted Assad can have no role in the country’s future.
The Syrian opposition and regime have held two rounds of peace talks in Switzerland, with the first producing a document urging the formation of a transitional government without mentioning Assad’s future.
But a second round this year ended without progress, and the UN’s Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi resigned in May.