Assad accuses France of backing 'terrorism'

Damascus (AFP) –


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a scathing attack on France on Monday, accusing it of backing "terrorism" and saying it has "no right to talk about peace" in the war-torn country.

His comments came days after Paris accused the Damascus regime of obstructing the latest round of failed peace talks for Syria held in Geneva last week.

"France has been the standard bearer of support for terrorism in Syria since the early days of the conflict," said Assad of Paris's support for rebels who have been battling his regime since 2011.

"It is in no position to evaluate a peace conference," Assad told journalists in Damascus.

"Whoever backs terrorism has no right to talk about peace or to interfere in Syrian affairs," he said.

The latest peace talks in Switzerland ended on Thursday without progress.

On Friday, Paris denounced what it called the Assad government's "irresponsible strategy of obstruction", saying it had refused to engage in the negotiations.

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron called Assad "an enemy of the Syrian people" who "will have to respond to his crimes before his people, before the international courts".

But Macron also insisted: "We have to speak to Assad and his representatives."

Assad's fate has been the stumbling block to progress in every round of UN-backed indirect negotiations in Geneva so far between his representatives and those of the Syrian opposition.

Damascus favours planned talks in Sochi in 2018 organised by Russia, the regime's main ally, over the Geneva process.

"In Geneva, the people we are negotiating with are not even representative of themselves," Assad said.

Sparked by the repression of peaceful demonstrations against Assad's regime, the conflict in Syria has become ever more complex with the involvement of foreign countries and jihadist groups.

More than 340,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in March 2011.