As it advances on rebel forces in Aleppo, Syrian government looking more upbeat – Los Angeles Times

 In World

Walid Moallem, Syria’s foreign minister, is known both for his ability to almost lazily parry a deluge of questions as well as his trademark languid pace of delivery.

But in a recent meeting in Damascus with a roomful of journalists and analysts, he seemed even more relaxed than usual and began by posing a question, smiling as he delivered each word.

“I will open my first question to you,” Moallem said.

“Who can tell me, why this hysteria in the West because of Aleppo?”

In the past month, pro-government troops have launched a ground invasion to retake the rebel-held enclave in Aleppo, a city divided between the state and the rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

As Assad’s forces have punched through front lines stalemated since 2013, the offensive on the oppositions’ districts — home to an estimated 250,000 people and blockaded since last summer — has brought worldwide condemnation from Western governments and aid groups.

But Moallem was unperturbed.

Instead, his opening gambit in the hourlong interview showed that the foreign minister, like other officials interviewed in a rare reporting trip to Syria, displayed the growing belief that the government’s worst days are behind it.

The visit to the capital, organized by the British Syrian Society, showed a state more assured than ever it will emerge victorious in the almost six-year Syrian civil war, a conflict where the dead number in the hundreds of thousands and which has transformed the country into a post-apocalyptic gallery of destruction.

Damascus’ resurgence of confidence comes more than a year after its nadir. In July 2015, Assad admitted his forces were too overstretched after a string of spectacular advances by the rebels fighting to topple him. But Russia’s entry into the war last September tipped the scales in the government’s favor.

Moallem dismissed any chance Assad would leave before the end of his term, a top demand by the opposition that has branded him a war criminal. 

Damascus also remains adamant that Western nations hoping Assad would set down will have to engage with his government.

“If we succeed in winning Aleppo again, and I’m sure we will, it’s up to the West … to rethink about [sic] their policies,” continued Moallem with a heavy sigh.

“And it’s not bad if somebody is mistaken to review his mistakes.”

Bouthaina Shaaban, Assad’s political and media adviser, agreed. She blamed the repeated breakdown of peace negotiations, held under the auspices of the U.N. in years past in the Swiss city of Geneva, on the opposition and its international backers, which include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, France and the U.S.

“It is the Syrian government who has been absolutely ready to participate in any negotiation and dialogue, and it is the other side that didn’t come to the negotiations or wasn’t allowed,” Shaaban said.

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