Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad told a Swiss TV station that government forces had to rid the city of Aleppo of rebel "terrorists" under its constitutional mandate to protect the civilian population, Reuters reports.
"That's our mission, according to the constitution, according to the law, that we have to protect people, that we have to get rid of those terrorists from Aleppo. This is where we can protect the civilians," the Syrian president said in an interview with Swiss broadcaster SRF, which was conducted on Tuesday and posted on the broadcaster's website on Wednesday.
"How can you protect them while they are under the control of terrorists? They've been killed by them, and they've been controlled fully by the terrorists. Is it our role to sit aside and watch if that's how we can protect the Syrian people? We need to attack the terrorists, that's self-evident," he added.
Assad also claimed in the interview that the photo of 5-year-old boy Syrian boy Omran, who was pictured covered in dust and blood inside an ambulance, was "forged."
Omran was pulled from the rubble after an air raid in the rebel-held district of Qaterji in the southeast of Aleppo and drew worldwide attention, with the State Department calling Omran "the real face" of the Syrian conflict.
Assad, however, claimed the photo had been "manipulated" and said he would send the journalist conducting the interview photos to prove his claim.
The comments come two weeks after Assad warned rebels in Aleppo that unless they agreed to a deal with the government, his forces would have "no option" but to expel them from the city.
He also claimed in an interview with a Russian newspaper that there is “no contradiction” between Israel and jihadist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS), claiming that all the “terrorist groups” which operate in his country are supported by Israel.
The Assad regime uses the term “terrorist groups” to describe all of Assad’s opponents, including both moderate, Western-backed rebels and jihadist groups like ISIS.