In a lengthy interview with Venezuelan state television, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fired back at U.S. President Barack Obama's Tuesday speech to the U.N. General Assembly, accusing the Obama administration of "lying to the American people" about the Syrian regime's alleged use of chemical weapons that has formed the basis for a proposed U.S.-led strike.
Assad also told Telesur reporter William Parra that he believed the military strike was still a very real threat, despite the U.N. Security Council making progress this week on a resolution that would place Syria's chemical weapons under international supervision, staving off U.S. military intervention.
"His speech [Tuesday] was more of the same – full of allegations based on fabrications and lies," Assad said, according to a transcript released Thursday by the official Syrian news agency.
In the interview, Assad detailed for the first time the evidence his government provided to Russia that he alleged implicates the rebels in a March attack that killed roughly 30 people in the Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal.
The U.S., along with Security Council allies France and Britain, allege that the Syrian government was behind a chemical weapons attack in August that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people in the Damascus suburbs.
Assad told Telesur that his Army handed Russia soil samples, blood samples from victims, and pieces from the projectiles used to carry the neurotoxic agent during the attack. Syrian television had previously broadcast apparent confessions from rebels who said they transported chemical agents into Syria.
In the Tuesday morning speech, Obama urged the U.N. Security Council to enforce Syrian cooperation with a U.N. chemical weapons inspection and justified his administration's insistence that a limited military strike against regime targets would be necessary if Assad fails to dispose of what experts believe to be a vast chemical weapons stockpile.
Assad's decision to sit for an interview with Telesur, Venezuela's state news channel, was hardly random – Venezuela has long been a close ally of Damascus. The network also tapped a reporter, Parra, who was shot in the leg by a rebel sniper while covering the conflict in Syria, according to a Telesur report.
Assad opened the interview with his condolences: "I welcome you as a journalist whose blood has been mixed with the blood of soldiers from the Syrian Arab Army."
The congenial atmosphere provided Assad opportunity to rehash his narrative on the conflict, which places blame for Syria's now two-and-a-half year conflict squarely on the shoulders of the rebels, who the regime refers to exclusively as "terrorists," and their international backers.
"These terrorists have only one message, which is the dark ideology they carry in their minds; for them, all those who do not think like them do not deserve to live," the Syrian president said. "These terrorist operations are financed, planned and instigated by people outside Syria with the aim of pushing Syrians towards complete despair."
Analysts point out that the Syrian president has never wavered in framing the conflict as a battle between the legitimate Syrian government and a terrorist insurgency with links to al-Qaeda.
But the increasing influence of extremist groups like the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which wrested control of the border town of Azaz from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army last week, bolsters these claims.
"Assad created a narrative that was not true but that has since become true," says Kristen Gillespie, editor of Syria Direct, a news outlet based in neighboring Jordan that trains Syrian reporters to cover the crisis in Syria.
"Which is to say that there are extremists and terrorists in Syria now looking to create their own Islamic caliphate," she adds.
Also on Thursday, Ahmed Al-Jarba, president of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the revolution's political wing in exile, called on the international community to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged neighborhoods and towns in Syria.
He also disputed Assad's labeling of the rebels as "terrorists."
"The regime has sought to portray itself as fighting terrorism, even as the regime destroys cities, villages, mosques, and churches in violation of international humanitarian law," Jarba said in a speech to a group of U.N. delegates that recognize the SNC as a legitimate representative body.
Russia and the U.S. confirmed on Thursday that they had reached an "understanding" on a proposed U.N. resolution to place Syria's chemical weapons under international supervision.
More than 100,000 people have died so far in the civil war, which has driven more than 2 million refugees into neighboring countries and increased sectarian violence in the region.