Assad: There are no Iranian troops in Syria

President says Syrian intelligence have had “contact” with French officials regarding ISIL, slams US-led coalition.

Residents inspect a fire at a damaged site after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Assad in Idlib [REUTERS]
Assad denied that government forces were behind alleged chemical attacks in northwestern Idlib province last month [Reuters]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he invited Hezbollah fighters to fight alongside his regime but has denied the presence of Iranian troops in Syria in an interview with French television.

Assad also said that French security officials had been in contact with the Syrian government regarding the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) armed group. 

Iran is Assad’s main regional ally, and Tehran has acknowledged sending military advisers to assist his forces in their fight against rebels and ISIL, the AFP news agency reported.

However it has denied accusations from opposition forces and Saudi Arabia that it has troops on the ground in Syria.

“We invited Hezbollah, but not the Iranians, There are no Iranian troops in Syria and they have not sent any force,” Assad told France 2 Television in the interview broadcast on Monday.

Lebanon’s Shia group Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, has helped Assad make gains against rebels opposing his regime.

Assad said that French security officials had travelled to Syria for talks with intelligence officials.

“We met with them, we met with some of your [French] security officials, but there’s no cooperation,” Assad said, according to a transcript of the interview published by the Syrian state news agency.

He reiterated that it was France who requested the meeting.

“We don’t have anything to ask from the French intelligence. We have all the information about the terrorists,” he said.

In the wide-ranging interview, the Syrian leader also denied being behind alleged chemical attacks in northwestern Idlib province last month, and accused the United States of overseeing the creation of ISIL.

“The IS was created in Iraq in 2006 under the supervision of the Americans. The IS came from Iraq to Syria because chaos is contagious,” he said, using a different name for ISIL.

Coalition ‘not serious’

Assad was also scathing about efforts of the US-led coalition fighting ISIL saying the grouping was “not serious”.

“If you compare the number of air strikes carried out by the coalition composed of 60 states compared to those by our small state you will notice we sometimes strike ten times more than the coalition in one day. Is that serious?”

He reiterated denials of the use of barrel bombs or chemical attacks, which Syrian forces were most recently accused of using in Idlib province.

“We haven’t used chlorine gas and we don’t need to,” he said, referring to the attacks reported by Human Rights Watch on Idlib.

More than 215,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011 that spiralled into a war after a regime crackdown.

Source: AFP, Al Jazeera