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Assad Blames U.S. for Collapse of Syria Cease-fire, Denies Besieging Aleppo

Assad Denies Involvement in Airstrike on Aid Convoy 1:43

DAMASCUS, Syria — President Bashar al-Assad rejected U.S. accusations that Syrian or Russian planes struck an aid convoy in Aleppo or that his troops were preventing food from entering the city's rebel-held neighborhoods, blaming the U.S. for the collapse of a cease-fire many had hoped would bring relief to the war-ravaged country.

Image: Bashar al-Assad
In this photo released by the Syrian Presidency, Bashar al- Assad speaks to The AP at the presidential palace in Damascus, Syria. AP

In an interview with The Associated Press in Damascus, Assad also said deadly U.S. airstrikes on Syrian troops last week were intentional — dismissing American officials' statements that they were an accident. Assad said the U.S. lacked "the will" to join forces with Russia in fighting extremists.

Assad cut a confident figure during the interview — a sign of how his rule, which once seemed threatened by the rebellion, has been solidified by his forces' military advances and by the air campaign of his ally Russia.

He said his enemies alone were to blame for nearly six years of devastation across Syria. While acknowledging some mistakes, he repeatedly denied any excesses by his troops. He said the war was only likely to "drag on" because of continued external support for his opponents.

Related: Kerry Says It Feels Like 'Parallel Universe' With Russia About Syria

"When you have many external factors that you don't control, it's going to drag on and no one in this world can tell you when" the war will end, he said, insisting Syrians who fled the country could return within a few months if the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar stopped backing insurgents.

He spoke Wednesday in Damascus' Muhajireen palace, a white-stone building nestled among trees on the foothills of Qasioun Mountain.

U.S. Blames Russia for Attack on Syrian Aid Convoy That Left 20 Dead 1:20

The attack on the aid convoy outside Aleppo took place Monday night, hitting a warehouse as aid workers unloaded cargo. Footage filmed by rescuers showed torn flesh being picked from the wreckage.

A senior U.S. administration official said the U.S. believes with a very high degree of confidence that a Russian-piloted aircraft carried out the strike. The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and asked for anonymity.

Assad dismissed the claims, saying whatever American officials say "has no credibility" and is "just lies."

Like Syria, Russia has denied carrying out the convoy bombing.

Lavrov Calls for Calm Investigation of Convoy Attack 0:47

Syria and the United States have been at loggerheads since the Sept. 17 U.S. airstrike last week that hit Syrian troops in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour. U.S. officials said the attack was accidental and that the warplanes thought they were targeting ISIS positions. Russia said the strikes killed more than 60 Syrian troops.

Assad said he did not believe the American account and said that attack targeted a "huge" area constituting of many hills.

"It wasn't an accident by one airplane... It was four airplanes that kept attacking the position of the Syrian troops for nearly one hour, or a little bit more than one hour," Assad said in the interview. "You don't commit a mistake for more than one hour."

"How could they (ISIS) know that the Americans are going to attack that position in order to gather their militants to attack right away and to capture it one hour after the strike?" Assad asked. "So it was definitely intentional."

Related: No Sign of Cease-Fire or Humanitarian Aid in Aleppo

The strikes contributed to the collapse of the cease-fire, which had already been marred by numerous violations on both sides of the conflict. They also cast serious doubt on chances for implementing an unprecedented U.S.-Russian agreement to jointly target militants in the country.

Assad said the United States lacked the will to work with Russia against extremists in Syria.

"I don't believe the United States will be ready to join Russia in fighting terrorists in Syria," he said.

Despite extensive evidence to the contrary, Assad repeatedly denied that his forces were besieging opposition-held eastern Aleppo, which has become a symbol both of resistance and also the high price civilians are paying in the war.

Family Makes Harrowing Escape From Besieged City of Aleppo 2:28

He flatly denied claims of malnutrition and a chronic lack of medical supplies.

"If there's really a siege around the city of Aleppo, people would have been dead by now," Assad said, asking how rebels were able to smuggle in arms but apparently not food or medicine.

The ancient city has been carved out into rebel and government-controlled areas since 2012. Rebel reinforcements broke a hole in the blockade in August. But in heavy bombardment over the following weeks, more than 700 civilians were killed. Earlier this month, Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes retook the roads and the siege resumed.

Complete Coverage: Aleppo's Children

Since then, the U.N. has accused Assad's government of obstructing aid access to the city, despite an agreement to allow aid in during the week-long cease-fire. During the brief cease-fire, trucks carrying aid sat idle by the nearby Turkish border, awaiting permits and safety guarantees.

Throughout the conflict, Assad's forces have been accused of bombing hospitals and civilians and choking opposition cities. Millions have fled Syria, some of them drowning at sea in the Mediterranean.

The war has been defined by gruesome photos and video posted in the aftermath of bloody attacks or documenting the plight of children in particular. The images have galvanized public opinion worldwide — but Assad said eyewitness accounts should not be automatically believed.

On the Frontline With Syria's White Helmets 2:13

"Those witnesses only appear when there's an accusation against the Syrian army or the Russian (army), but when the terrorists commit a crime or massacre or anything, you don't see any witnesses... So, what a coincidence," he said.

Assad scoffed at the idea that Syria's "White Helmets" — civil defense volunteers in opposition held areas seen by many as symbols of bravery and defiance — might be considered for a Nobel Peace Prize after a nomination earlier this year.

"What did they achieve in Syria?" he said. "I would only give a prize to whoever works for the peace in Syria."

Asked about his methods, including the use of indiscriminate weapons, Assad said "when you have terrorists, you don't throw at them balloons, or you don't use rubber sticks."