Syria's Assad says still pursuing political solution for rebel-held south

© Reuters. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gestures during an interview with Iranian channel al-Alam News in Damascus© Reuters. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gestures during an interview with Iranian channel al-Alam News in Damascus

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday his government is still pursuing a political solution for Syria’s rebel-held southwest, but will use military force if this fails.

“We are giving the political process a chance. If that doesn’t succeed, we have no other option but to liberate it by force,” Assad said in an interview with Iranian channel al-Alam News carried in full by Syrian state news agency SANA.

The southwest, bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan, is one of the remaining parts of Syria still outside the control of the state, which has recovered swathes of territory with the help of Russian air power and Iran-backed militias.

Since last year, a “de-escalation” deal brokered by Russia, the United States and Jordan has contained fighting there.

Washington has voiced concern about reports of an impending army offensive, warning of “firm and appropriate measures” in response to any violations of the ceasefire.

“Contacts are still ongoing between the Russians, the Americans and the Israelis,” Assad said, when asked whether the situation in the southwest would be decided through reconciliation or military means.

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