Assad says airstrike victims are 'faking it'

Assad says airstrike victims are 'faking it'
The Syrian president has claimed rebel forces forged
a famous image of a young boy in a state of shock after an Aleppo airstrike in order to drum up international support.
2 min read
21 October, 2016
Assad also claimed during the interview that Aleppo was under siege by rebel fighters [AFP]
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has claimed that a chiling image of a young boy in a state of shock following the airstrike that killed his brother in east Aleppo is a forgery.

In an interview with Swiss broadcaster SRF, aired on Wednesday night, Assad made the claim when confronted with a picture of Omran Daqneesh.

An image of the five-year-old sitting bloodied in the back of an ambulance, staring into the distance, having been dragged from the rubble of his apartment building shortly before it collapsed, became a haunting symbol of the suffering of civilians in Aleppo in August.

However, Assad said that the image was merely a publicity stunt carried out by the Syrian Civil Defence, or White Helmets, in order to gain international sympathy for the Syrian opposition. The Syrian president then claimed that the White Helmets were part of the al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front) - one of Damascus' favoured rhetorical mantras.

"[The] White Helmets is a facelift of Nusra in Aleppo. They [Daqneesh and his sister] were rescued twice… and just as part of the publicity of those White Helmets. None of these incidents were true… and it is manipulated," said Assad.

"We have real pictures of children being harmed, but this one in specific is a forged one."

Commenting on the current situation in east Aleppo, where some 250,00 people are trapped in a regime-imposed siege, Assad claimed that the district was in fact under siege by "terrorists" - a reference to opposition fighters.

"Aleppo has been under siege for the past four years by the terrorists," said Assad, accusing the international community of "hysteria" over ongoing events in the city. 
Images of Omran Daqneesh roused global outcry in July [Getty]

Since a US-Russian ceasefire collapsed in September pro-regime forces have embarked on a relentless assault on east Aleppo that has seen troops on the ground make inroads into the rebel-held area, while deadly airstrikes carried out by Russian and Syrian aircraft have reportedly killed more than 400 people.

On Thursday, the aerial campaign on the city stopped, marking the beginning of a three-day "pause" in hostilities announced by Russia, that Moscow claims is intended to allow civilians and opposition fighters safe passage out of east Aleppo.

The proposal has been widely criticised by international actors, and humanitarian groups who argue that it principally serves Moscow and Damascus' military objectives, offering those in east Aleppo a clear ultimatum: leave now, or stay and face further bombardment.

Rebel groups have also dismissed the proposal as a call for their "surrender".