Assad says his army’s top priority is to protect civilians

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday that the protection of civilian lives is the top priority of his army battling opposition forces that are advancing in many fronts nationwide.

In an interview on the government-run al-Ikhbariya channel, Assad rejected reports of several parts of the country having fallen out his control. He said his army withdrew in some areas for reasons on top of which is protecting civilians.

"The priority for us always in the armed forces is the humanitarian part, the protection of civilian lives, and lifting suffering in areas entered by terrorists,” Assad said.

“We do not give priority to the media and political sides; sometimes this benefits the other party. This is not important, however, What's important for us is the reality on the ground” he added.

Assad lashed out the neighboring Jordan, saying the “fire in Syria could reach Jordan.” He criticized the neighboring kingdom for allowing rebels to freely move across its borders.

“I cannot believe that hundreds (of rebels) are entering Syria with their weapons while Jordan is capable of arresting any single person with a light arm for going to resist in Palestine,” Assad said.

The embattled president said the rebels were “groups of mercenaries” with “extremist thinking.”

He said Western nations will suffer the consequences for what he said was their support for al-Qaeda militants in his country’s civil war.

“The West has paid heavily for funding al-Qaeda in its early stages in Afghanistan. Today it is supporting it in Syria, Libya and other places, and will pay a heavy price later in the heart of Europe and the United States,” he told Syrian television channel al-Ikhbariya, according to extracts published on the Syrian presidency’s Facebook page on Wednesday.

Assad was speaking a week after Syria’s rebel al- Nusra Front, one of the most effective rebel forces battling his troops, formally pledged allegiance to al Qaeda leader Aymanal-Zawahri.

The United States has designated the Nusra Front a terrorist organization and the presence of militant Islamists in Syria’s two-year conflict poses a quandary for Western powers who favour Assad’s overthrow, but are alarmed at the growing influence of the Islamists in Syria.

“The truth is, what is happening is that we are mainly facing extremist forces,” Assad said in the interview.

The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which started as mainly peaceful protests two years ago but has evolved into a civil war.