Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says that ending the Western-imposed embargo against Syria would be a first step in halting the flow of refugees from his country. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Saturday (February 20) that one of the first steps to reducing the flow of refugees from his country would be ending the international embargo against his war-torn country. Since the beginning of the civil war five years ago, more than 4.3 million have fled Syria and at least 250,000 people have died. The image of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi lying face down on a Turkish beach last September appeared around the world and prompted a wave of sympathy for the plight of refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. Assad said his government had to deal with terrorism and international sanctions to stop the stream of refugees fleeing Syria. "The question for us as officials that has been asked by the Syrian people: what are we going to do? What action is being taken either to allow those refugees to come back to their country or not to leave at all? You have two reasons here. The first one that we have to deal with, of course, is the terrorism, because those terrorists not only threaten people, but deprive the people from their basic needs of their lives. The second reason is the embargo that's been implemented on Syria by the West, mainly the West and the United States of course, that caused more difficulties for the people to live here, especially in the health sector. So, we need to deal with those reasons in order to prevent this tragedy from being dragged on for a long time," Assad said. His comments were made as the Syrian opposition said it had agreed to the "possibility" of a temporary truce, provided there were guarantees that Damascus's allies including Russia would cease fire, sieges were lifted and aid deliveries were allowed country-wide. Assad also said any truce must ensure that other countries, especially Turkey, are prevented from sending more "terrorists" and weapons into Syria, or any kind of logistical support. Assad said his government would continue to fight those terrorists as long as it took, while urging other countries to do their part in helping him in that fight. "First of all, Europe should lift the embargo on the Syrian people; they don't make embargo on the Syrian government, it is against the Syrian people. Second, Turkey should stop sending terrorists to Syria. Third, as a government, we have to fight the terrorists, definitely, and we have to keep the living moving forward by any means in order to allow the Syrians to stay in their country," Assad said. Damascus refers to all insurgents fighting against the Syrian army and its allies as "terrorists". Turkey, other Sunni regional powers and Western countries have supported insurgents fighting against Assad, whose forces are bolstered by Iran, Russia and Lebanese Hezbollah. Attempts to negotiate a truce in recent months have failed. The latest round of talks at the United Nations in Geneva is being jointly chaired by Russia and the United States. World powers agreed in Munich on Feb. 12 to a cessation of hostilities that would let humanitarian aid be delivered in Syria. The ceasefire was scheduled to start a week later, but did not take effect. Syrian army offensives continue unabated across the country, backed by Russian air strikes. Assad said last week he would keep "fighting terrorism" while peace talks took place, vowing to retake the whole country.