DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria's deputy foreign minister said Thursday he has "every confidence" that the Syrian military can recover all of the country's territory now in rebel hands, saying victory is within reach despite "huge quantities" of weapons pouring into the country.
Speaking to The Associated Press in an interview at his office in Damascus, Faisal Mekdad decried U.S. "hypocrisy" and called on the Washington to stop supporting the rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, adding that Syria can and will continue to defend itself.
"We believe the U.S. should behave as a responsible superpower, the U.S. should be committed not to financing and arming terrorists," Mekdad said.
The Syrian regime refers to the rebels fighting Assad's regime as "terrorists" and "armed gangs" paid by foreign countries to destabilize and weaken Syria. President Barack Obama decided last week to authorize weapons and ammunition shipments to Syrian rebels, after the administration cited evidence that Assad's regime used chemical weapons against its people.
Mekdad spoke as Syrian troops are on an offensive to recapture rebel-held areas around Damascus and in the country's central and northern provinces. The government says it is capitalizing on momentum gained by its military success in the town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon earlier this month, and is pushing forward to seize other areas.
"I think it is the duty of the Syrian army to be everywhere in Syria," Mekdad said, suggesting at the same time that he would prefer a peaceful settlement to the conflict, now in its third year. He did not elaborate, saying he would not divulge military plans.
Asked whether the government could get back all the territory it lost to the rebels, Mekdad replied: "Absolutely, I have every confidence to say that the government is increasingly getting more support from the entire Syrian people."
"We have every reason to believe that, although huge quantities of weapons and armed groups are pouring into Syria from neighboring countries, mainly from Turkey," he said, speaking in English.
On Obama's decision to arm Syrian groups and U.S. accusations that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, Mekdad said the U.S. continues to fuel the conflict in Syria.
"The decision by the government of the United States to arm terrorist groups is not a new one. We believe that the United states has been behind all these groups, not only since the beginning of the crisis in Syria but before that," he said.
"The credibility of the U.S. has been broken as a result of such intentions," he said of the U.S. arming decision.
Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed reporting from Beirut.