Assad rejects Syria transition deadline

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has said a political process to end the country’s bloody civil war cannot begin while it is occupied by “terrorists,” the BBC reports.

Mr Assad told Italian state television the timetable for elections “starts after starting to defeat terrorism”.

It is unclear whether he was referring only to Islamic State (IS) militants or also to Western-backed rebels.

Last week, 19 countries – including Mr Assad’s allies – set a deadline of 1 January for the start of peace talks.

They signed a UN statement that calls for a ceasefire to be agreed by 14 May 2016 and for free elections to be held a year later.

Neither the Syrian government nor opposition were invited to take part in the event in Vienna so that the countries could present a unified message.

In an interview with Rai TV broadcast on Wednesday night, the Syrian president stressed that no deadline for the start of a political transition could be set while parts of the country were not controlled by his government.

“This timetable starts after starting defeating terrorism. You cannot achieve anything politically while you have the terrorists taking over many areas in Syria,” he said.

“If we talk after that, one year and a half to two years is enough for any transition.”

The president also insisted in the interview that Syria was not an “incubator” for IS, which controls large parts of the country’s north and east.

The rise of the group, which “started in Iraq”, was the result of “the support of the Turks and the Saudis and Qataris, and of course the Western policy that supported the terrorists in different ways”, he said.

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