BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview published Sunday that the West is fueling the devastating war in his country, now in its eighth year, with the aim of toppling him.
Assad told The Mail on Sunday that Western nations have lied about chemical attacks in Syria and supported terrorists groups there, while Russia has supported his government against the foreign "invasion."
Assad reiterated his long-held position that the uprising against his rule was part of a plot to remove a leader that did not go along with Western policies in the region. Syria is allied with Iran and Russia, and has had turbulent relations with the West. Syria is technically at war with Israel, which occupies the Syrian Golan Heights, but a cease-fire has largely held since the 1970s.
"The whole approach toward Syria in the West is, 'we have to change this government; we have to demonize this president, because they don't suit our policies anymore.'" Assad said. "They tell lies, they talk about chemical weapons. They talk about the bad president killing good people, freedom and peaceful demonstrations."
Syria's conflict began in 2011 with peaceful protests against the Assad family's decades-long rule. The government's violent response to the protests, and the eventual rise of an armed insurgency, tipped the country into a civil war that has claimed nearly half a million lives.
Since then, Western nations and independent experts have accused the government of carrying out several chemical weapons attacks, most recently in April, in an attack near Damascus that reportedly killed dozens of people and prompted Western airstrikes. The government has denied ever using chemical weapons.
Assad also dismissed reports that Israel has conducted recent airstrikes in Syria with tacit Russian cooperation. Russia has provided crucial military support to Assad's forces, waging an air campaign since 2015 that turned the tide of the war in Assad's favor. Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah group have also provided extensive military support.
"Russia never coordinated with anyone against Syria, either politically or militarily," Assad said. "How could they help the Syrian Army advancing and at the same time work with our enemies in order to destroy our army?"
Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes against Iranian forces in Syria last month. The lack of any Russian response, despite the heavy Russian presence in the skies over Syria, suggested that Moscow might have been notified ahead of time.
Assad said he has remained in office through more than seven years of war because he has "public support."
"We are fighting the terrorists, and those terrorists are supported by the British government, the French government, the Americans and their puppets whether in Europe or in our region," he said.
"We are fighting them, and we have public support in Syria to fight those terrorists. That's why we are advancing. We cannot make these advances just because we have Russian and Iranian support."
In recent weeks, the Syrian government and its allies have made considerable military gains, including bringing the entire capital and its suburbs under full government control for the first time since the war began. Some areas in the north are controlled by the Turkish military and its Syrian allies and others in the northeast are run by U.S.-backed Syrian forces. Rebel fighters remain in control of most of Idlib province in the northwest and parts of southern Syria.
On Sunday, activists and a war monitor said at least 10 people were killed in airstrikes in Taftanaz, a town in northeastern Idlib province. The Syrian Civil Defense, known as White Helmets, said the killed included four children and one woman and that those killed were all at the local pediatric hospital that got hit in the airstrike. The Observatory and an activist-run media center in Taftanaz said the hospital was put out of order struck.
At least five others were killed in the nearby towns of Binnish, Ariha and Ram Hemdan, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.