Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has rejected his American counterpart’s plan to create "safe zones" in Syria allegedly to protect refugees fleeing violence in the war-torn country and to stem the flow of displaced people into other countries.
“It's not a realistic idea at all. This is where you can have natural safe zones, which is our country. They don't need safe zones at all,” the 51-year-old Syrian leader said in an interview with Yahoo News released on Friday.
He added that “It's much more viable, much more practical and less costly to have stability than to create safe zones.”
Assad further noted that safe zones in Syria would be at risk of attack from foreign-sponsored extremist groups fighting to topple the incumbent Syrian government.
The remarks come as the United Nations also rejects safe zones, saying the status quo in Syria does not allow for the creation of safe havens in northern Syria.
Speaking in an interview with ABC News on January 25, Trump said he “will absolutely do safe zones in Syria,” without giving details.
Assad further stated that the Syrian government would welcome cooperation with Washington in the campaign against the Takfiri Daesh terror group only if the United States respects Syria's sovereignty and unity, and takes a “clear political position” on the matter.
He said US troops would be “welcome” in Syria to fight Daesh provided that Washington coordinates with Damascus, and recognizes the Syrian government’s sovereignty.
“If the Americans are genuine, of course they are welcome. Like any other country, we want to defeat and to fight the terrorists," he said.
“Troops are part of the cooperation... (but) you cannot talk about sending troops... if you don't have a clear political position toward not only the terrorism, toward the sovereignty of Syria, toward the unity of Syria. It must be through the Syrian government,” Assad pointed out.
The Syrian president also warned that there are “definitely” terrorists among millions of Syrians seeking refuge in the West.
He said it does not have to be a “significant” number of terrorists to commit atrocities, stressing that his priority is to “bring Syrian refugees back to their country, not to prompt them to immigrate.”
'No evidence' for Amnesty report
Elsewhere in his remarks, Assad dismissed a recent report by Amnesty International alleging that military forces had hanged as many of 13,000 people over the course of five years at the Saydnaya prison near Damascus.
The report “puts into question the credibility of Amnesty International,” Assad said, noting, “It's always biased and politicized. And it's shame for such organization to publish a report without a shred of evidence.”
Earlier, the Syrian Justice Ministry had strongly dismissed the Amnesty International report as “inaccurate and politically-motivated,” stressing that such a bid is meant to ruin the Syrian government’s reputation in international bodies.
The ministry, in a statement published on Tuesday, emphasized that writs of execution are issued in Syria only after due process of law.