Syria’s President Assad says Paris attacks result from France’s aiding of rebels – Hugh Naylor/The Washington Post
BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad suggested Saturday that French support for opposition forces in his country’s civil war led to Friday’s Islamic State-claimed attacks in Paris that killed at least 127 people.
In comments published by Syria’s official news agency, SANA, the embattled leader called on Western states to stop aiding “terrorists,” a term used by Syria’s government for all insurgent groups. France backs Syrian rebel groups and has been a particularly vocal opponent of Assad during the nearly five-year-old conflict.
The remarks contrasted with expressions of support for France and condemnations of the attacks coming from much of the rest of the Middle East.
“Wrong [policies] adopted by Western states, particularly France, toward events in the region, and its ignorance of the support of a number of its allies to terrorists are reasons behind the expansion of terrorism,” said Assad, who delivered the comments during a meeting with a visiting French delegation.
The Syrian leader compared the Paris attacks to events in Syria, saying that his country has endured terrorism during the civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people.
The comments reflect an apparent desire by Assad to rally international support for his government against the Islamic State militant group, which asserted responsibility on social media for the Paris attacks. But the comments are likely to infuriate officials in France, which regularly hosts meetings between Syrian opposition politicians and has called for military intervention against the Syrian president.
In Iran, a staunch supporter of Assad’s government, the tone of official reaction to the Paris killings was much different. In a message to French President François Hollande, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, condemned the killings and expressed “sympathy to the bereaved people and government of France.”
The Iranian leader canceled a trip to Italy and France following the attacks.
Iran’s opponents in the Arab world also issued a flurry of condolences and denunciations.
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi expressed “solidarity” with France. A similar message of support was issued by Saad Hariri, a former prime minister of Lebanon, which was rocked Thursday by Islamic State-claimed attacks that killed at least 43 people in the capital, Beirut.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said the killings violated “all ethics, morals and religions” and called for enhanced international measures to counter the “scourge of terrorism.”
The conservative desert kingdoms’ top religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, issued a statement saying that terrorism is “not sanctioned by Islam, and these acts are contrary to values of mercy it brought to the world,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.
France is part of a U.S.-led coalition that is targeting the Islamic State with airstrikes at its strongholds in eastern Syria and northern Iraq. But that coalition refuses to coordinate with the Syrian government, which in turn has relied increasingly on direct military action from Russia for vanquishing its foes. In September, Moscow intervened in Syria with airstrikes and enhanced military support.
World powers convened Saturday in Vienna for discussions on how to end the Syrian war. The rise of extremist groups in the Syrian conflict have compelled opponents and supporters of the Assad government to renew peace efforts, and Friday’s attacks in Paris are poised to add even more urgency.
But a major sticking point is what to do with Assad.
France has taken the lead in demanding that he step down as part of a transition to end the conflict, even as the United States has toned down its stance on the Syrian leader. Russia and Iran oppose any such conditions placed on Assad, who is seen by both countries as key for projecting their influence in the region.
Hugh Naylor is a Beirut-based correspondent for The Post. He has reported from over a dozen countries in the Middle East for such publications as The National, an Abu Dhabi-based newspaper, and The New York Times.