MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Syrian army will regain control of the country’s north by force if rebels there refuse to surrender, President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with Russian television channel NTV on Sunday.
Assad, who said in the same interview he would not accept Western funds to rebuild his country, was speaking after Damascus said it rejected the presence of Turkish and U.S. forces around the northern town of Manbij, a day after soldiers of the two countries began patrolling the area.
“We have chosen two paths: the first and most important one is reconciliation… The second path is to attack terrorists if they don’t surrender and refuse to make peace,” Assad said in the interview.
“We will fight with them (rebels) and return control by force. It is certainly not the best option for us, but it’s the only way to get control of the country,” said Assad, responding to a question about the northern part of Syria where rebel groups backed by Turkey hold some territory.
Assad has previously promised to also squeeze rebels from the country’s south, and a war monitor and rebel officials said on Friday that the Syrian army had dropped barrel bombs on opposition areas of the country’s southwest for the first time in a year. Damascus denies using barrel bombs.
Assad said in the same interview on Sunday that Syria would not accept any Western money to help rebuild the country, which is shattered after seven years of war.
“We have enough strength to rebuild the country. If we don’t have money – we will borrow from our friends, from Syrians living abroad,” Assad said.
(This version of the story was refiled to add missing attribution in paragraph 5)
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)