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Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with RIA Novosti and Sputnik in this handout picture provided by SANA on April 21, 2017, Syria. — Picture by Sana via ReutersSyria’s President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with RIA Novosti and Sputnik in this handout picture provided by SANA on April 21, 2017, Syria. — Picture by Sana via ReutersMOSCOW, April 21 — Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad today blamed the country’s former al-Qaeda affiliate for a deadly bombing against buses carrying evacuees outside Aleppo at the weekend. 

“It was Jabhat al-Nusra, they haven’t hidden it from the very start, and I think that everyone agrees that it was Nusra,” Assad told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency in an interview, referring to the jihadist group now known as the Fateh al-Sham Front that has supposedly severed its ties with al-Qaeda.

The bombing killed 126 people, 68 of them children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at the Rashidin transit point west of Aleppo as people were evacuating from the besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya. 

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, one of the deadliest episodes since the start of Syria’s six-year civil war.

In the interview translated into Russian, Assad denied there had been a chemical attack this month in the town of Khan Sheikhun, claiming there was “100 per cent” certainty that rebels had obtained chemical weapons from Turkey. 

“The only route for terrorists to receive money, weapons and any kind of materials, new recruits or such substances goes through Turkey,” he said.

Assad added that Damascus had lost “more than 50 per cent” of its air defence systems and that Syria was in talks with Moscow for weapons deliveries. 

Assad also minimised the death toll for the civil war that has raged in his country since 2011, which has killed more than 320,000 people. 

He said that merely “tens of thousands” had been killed in the conflict, accusing the West of overblowing the death toll.   

“These (figures) are only given to inflate numbers in order to show how terrible the situation is and use this as a humanitarian excuse for the invasion of Syria,” he said. — AFP

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