President Bashar al-Assad said in comments published Thursday that Syrian forces' victory in the battle for Aleppo will be a "big gain" for his government but that it won't end the country's civil war, the AP reports. Assad, in an interview published in the state-owned newspaper al-Watan, described his forces' fight in Aleppo as one "against terrorism and a conspiracy" to destroy and divide Syria, allegedly led by Turkey. "Liberating Aleppo from the terrorists deals a blow to the whole foundation of this project," he said. "[But] to be realistic, it doesn't mean the end of the war." With Aleppo, the capital Damascus, and Homs, the third largest city under his control, Assad says "terrorists" no longer hold any cards. "Even if we finish in Aleppo, we will carry on with the war against them," he noted.
Assad's comments came as his troops pushed further into the rebel-held enclave in eastern Aleppo in the bitter conflict now in its sixth year. More than three-quarters of the rebel section have fallen under the government's control, including the symbolically important ancient Aleppo quarters; more than 30,000 of the estimated 275,000 residents of the besieged eastern part have fled to western Aleppo. Assad said he'll no longer consider truce offers, adding such offers, particularly from Americans, often come when the rebels are in a "difficult spot." Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying Moscow was close to reaching a deal with the US on a ceasefire for Aleppo, though he warned against "high expectations." The Syrian government and ally Russia have rejected previous calls for a truce for the war-torn city, keeping up the military offensive that has squeezed and forced rebels to retreat in several areas.