Syrian President Bashar Assad declared his government’s takeover of the embattled city Aleppo a “success” during a triumphant video appearance and an interview this week, making no mention of summary executions or detentions reportedly carried out under his watch.
Regime and pro-government forces, with the help of Russia, claimed total control of the eastern part of the city from rebel groups on Tuesday, leaving tens of thousands of civilians unsure whether they would survive. Turkey, which supports rebel forces, and Russia, which supports the Syrian government, brokered a ceasefire that went into effect Wednesday, allowing evacuations of civilians to begin Thursday.
“This is when time becomes history,” a smiling Assad said, hailing “the liberation of Aleppo” in a video posted on Twitter Thursday. “Aleppo turns time into history. The resilience of Aleppo’s people, the Syrian Arab Army, with its virility, and its courage and its sacrifice, and every Syrian citizen who stood by Aleppo and stood by their country and stood by their nation and by the truth: This in itself is history, being written now, one that is much bigger than the word ‘congratulations.’”
Assad repeatedly called insurgents “terrorists” in an interview with Russia Today published on Wednesday, lumping them into the same category as members of the so-called Islamic State. He said proxy countries, like the United States, support terrorist groups in Syria.
“The defeat of the terrorists [in Aleppo] is the defeating of their proxies,” he said.
Now, Assad said his priority is to protect Aleppo and to allow civilians to leave the eastern part of the city.
He claimed he’s offering rebels a second chance “to change their minds, to join the government, to go back to their normal life, and to get amnesty.”
“They joined the terrorists for different reasons, either out of fear, for the money, sometimes for the ideology,” he said. “So, if you can bring them back to their normal life, to be natural citizens, that’s your job as a government.”
On the question of whether his government has done enough to mitigate civilian casualties, Assad said the notion of “enough” is subjective.
“I’m sure that we are doing our best,” he said.
Assad said he has high hopes for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.
“His rhetoric during the campaign was positive regarding the terrorism, which is our priority today,” Assad said. “The most important thing is the relation between Russia and the Unites States. If he goes towards that relation, most of the tension around the world will be pacified. That’s very important for us in Syria.”
The Aleppo evacuation appeared to proceed peacefully on Thursday. But what will happen to refugees once they are in the hands of the Assad government is still uncertain.