Middle East

Syria's Assad: Aleppo a 'springboard' to winning the war

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks to a journalist from Komsomolskaya Pravda Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Assad said 'terrorists' must be pushed 'back' to Turkey

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said victory in Aleppo will make the city a "springboard" from which to retake the rest of the country.

In an interview with a Russian newspaper, Mr Assad said there was no choice but to "keep cleaning this area" and force rebels "back" to Turkey.

Syria and its ally Russia have stepped up bombardment of rebel-held eastern Aleppo in recent weeks.

Meanwhile a bomb attack near Syria's border with Turkey has left many dead.

At least 17 people, mainly rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), were killed in the car bomb blast at a rebel checkpoint near Azaz in the northern province of Aleppo, activists and monitors said.

No group has yet said it carried out the attack.

Earlier this month, so-called Islamic State (IS) killed at least 29 people, most of them Islamist rebel fighters, in a bombing at the rebel-controlled Atmeh crossing, in Idlib province to the west.

Azaz sits between territory controlled by Syrian Kurdish forces to its west and by IS to its east.

'No other option'

In a lengthy interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, President Assad said retaking Aleppo could help him win the war.

"It's going to be the springboard, as a big city, to move to another areas, to liberate another areas from the terrorists," he said, referring to the rebels.

"You have to keep cleaning this area and to push the terrorists to Turkey, to go back to where they come from or to kill them. There's no other option," he said.

Turkey is a key backer of rebel groups, along with Western powers and Gulf states.

In August, Turkish forces crossed into Syria in an ongoing operation to push Kurdish fighters and IS away from its border.

Mr Assad branded Turkey's actions an "invasion, against international law, against the morals, against the sovereignty of Syria".

Meanwhile, in a fresh diplomatic push, the US and Russia are to resume talks this weekend on trying to resolve the nearly six-year war.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to meet counterparts from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Lausanne on Saturday. Mr Kerry will also hold talks in London on Sunday with foreign ministers from Britain, France and Germany.

It comes almost two weeks after the US suspended dialogue with Russia over Syria after an intensification of air strikes on Aleppo.

The city has been roughly divided between the government-held west and rebel-held east since 2012 and has become a key battleground in the war which has killed at least 300,000 people.