'US and Russia close to war over Syria': Assad
The regime head told Russian media outlet RT that recent US-led missile attacks in Syria could have been far more extensive if it weren't for Russian intervention.
Such a scenario could have put the US and Russia in direct conflict, he claimed.
"We were close to have direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces. Fortunately, it has been avoided - not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership," he told RT - which has frequently been criticised as a mouthpiece for the Russian government, one of Assad's principal military backers in his war against the Syrian people.
"The Russians announced publicly that they [the US] are going to destroy the bases that are going to be used to launch missiles, and our information - we don't have evidence, we only have information, and that information is credible information - that they were thinking about a comprehensive attack all over Syria, and that's why the threat pushed the West to make it on a much smaller scale."
Assad was referring either to US missile strikes on al-Shayrat airbase in April 2017 - following the regime's Khan Sheikhoun chemical massacre - or the US-UK-French hits on sites in Homs and Damascus in April 2018, following another deadly regime gas attack on Eastern Ghouta.
The latter punitive strikes were expected to be more widespread, but appeared to have been scaled back, perhaps due concerns from some sections of the US administration about possible tensions with Moscow.
Israel has also launched numerous strikes on regime and Iranian targets in Syria, with little or no response from Russia.
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US troops are also present in some areas of northern Syria, where Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have helped defeat the Islamic State group.
US forces have clashed with Syrian regime and Russian mercenary troops in Deir az-Zor, since the fall of the IS self-declared "capital" Raqqa.
A series of US air strikes are believed to have killed scores of Russian mercenaries, along with Moscow's Syria militia allies.
"The only problem left in Syria is the SDF. We're going to deal with it by two options. The first one: we started now opening doors for negotiations," he said.
"...If not, we're going to resort to liberating those areas by force. It's our land, it's our right and it's our duty to liberate it, and the Americans should leave. Somehow they're going to leave."
Both the SDF and the Russian-backed Syrian regime are engaged in separate operations against Islamic State group jihadists in eastern Syria.
Assad forces have slowly retaken most of the country from opposition forces. The Syrian regime set its sights on the south of the capital after reconquering a major rebel bastion east of Damascus last month.
Eastern Ghouta fell after a brutal air and ground assault and Russia-backed evacuation deals that saw tens of thousands of people bussed out to northern Syria.
The Syrian opposition surrender followed the gassing to death of dozens of civilians following a suspected regime chemical attack.
More than 500,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.