Bashar al-Assad has called the ongoing bombing of parts of eastern Aleppo by Syrian and Russian warplanes a process of “cleaning” the city, and compared the current diplomatic rift between Russia and the West a continuation of the Cold War.
The Syrian president, speaking to Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, said the attacks on the rebel-held parts of Aleppo were necessary to push terrorists back to Turkey and would act as a “springboard” for further Syrian government-led operations.
“You have to keep cleaning this area and push the terrorists to Turkey, to go back to where they come from or to kill them. There’s no other option,” Assad said. “Aleppo is going to be a very important springboard to do this move.”
Assad’s comments follow weeks of unrelenting attacks on the city, which has seen 358 civilians die, including at least 100 children, since the collapse of a U.S.-Russia–orchestrated cease-fire earlier in the month.
Assad’s continued military operations in Aleppo, with crucial assistance from Russia, prompted Western officials — most notably U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry — to call for a war crimes investigation into the governments of Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This week alone the death toll is reportedly over 150 people, with 13 dying in attacks on Thursday.
“What we’ve been seeing recently during the last few weeks, and maybe few months, is something like more than Cold War,” Assad said in the interview. “I don’t know what to call it, but it’s not something that has existed recently, because I don’t think that the West and especially the United States has stopped their Cold War, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
Assad’s comments come the day before Kerry is set to meet Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Switzerland in the latest round of talks aimed at ending the yearslong bloodshed in Syria. The talks will also include key regional players Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the bombardment of rebel-held areas of the city continued Thursday night, though no new deaths were reported by the independent monitoring group that relies on local accounts to document airstrikes and military operations within Syria and Iraq.
The anti-government forces fighting to hold onto eastern Aleppo are made up of various groups, including factions of the Free Syrian Army that are supported by Western governments, and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, a former al-Qaeda affiliate previously known as the Nusra Front.
There are thought to be up to quarter-million civilians trapped inside Aleppo, cut off from crucial aid and supplies.