Assad: Syrian war over by end of year

A former Russian prime minister recounted the remark after a meeting in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

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A former Russian premier who recently met Bashar al-Assad said that the Syrian president told him that much of the country’s civil conflict would be over by the end of the year, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported on Monday.

Sergei Stepashin, who served as prime minister in 1999 under then-President Boris Yeltsin and now heads a charitable organization, met Assad in Damascus last week during a Middle East visit, Russian media reported.

“To my question about how military issues were going, this is what Assad said: ‘This year the active phase of military action in Syria will be ended. After that we will have to shift to what we have been doing all the time - fighting terrorists’,” state-run Itar-Tass quoted Stepashin as saying, according to Reuters.

Strong backer

Moscow has been Assad’s most powerful ally during the three-year conflict that monitoring groups say has led to the deaths of over 150,000 people, blocking Western and Arab efforts to topple him.

During his meeting with the Syrian president, Stepashin said they had discussed economic cooperation between their two countries.

Locked in a three-year civil war, Assad has lost large areas of northern and eastern Syria to rebel groups – many of them Islamists.

However, his forces, with the backing of Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah and other allies, have driven rebels back from around the capital Damascus and have secured most of central Syria.

The head of Hezbollah said in an interview published on Monday that Assad would stand for re-election this year and that he no longer faced a threat of being overthrown.

(With Reuters)

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