As France and Russia continue to carry out airstrikes in Syria targeting Islamic State strongholds, Iran said that it had offered Syrian President Bashar Assad shelter two years ago but the leader refused, the Middle East Monitor reported Wednesday. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said Assad would “stay to the last moment” after clinging to power since a civil war broke out in 2011.
“We have paid a heavy price over the past few years in Syria, and we lost some of our best forces there,” Abdollahian said. Iran has been a staunch ally to Assad. Abdollahian said Assad’s regime would have fallen a few years into the war without Iranian support. Approximately 400 Iranians have been killed fighting in Syria.
Iran’s continued support comes as France increased its airstrikes in Syria to target ISIS, the group which claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks in Paris Friday that have left at least 129 people dead and over 350 injured.
Russia, a longtime ally of Assad, began airstrikes in Syria at the end of September saying they would target ISIS. However, Western leaders have said Russia has also targeted opposition groups that pose a threat to Assad’s regime. Russia increased its airstrikes in Syria targeting ISIS after confirming Tuesday that a bomb brought down Metrojet flight 9268 over Egypt at the end of October killing all 224 onboard. An affiliate of ISIS claimed responsibility for downing the aircraft.
Assad’s role in Syria has divided states with the U.S. pushing for his removal from power over his human rights violations. Russia has sided with Iran in calling for Assad to remain in power. Iran said Monday that Assad should remain in power and be allowed to run in elections that were agreed to over the weekend in Vienna as the United Nations attempts to implement a peace plan.
The civil war in Syria has left over 200,000 dead and displaced millions spurring the refugee crisis in Europe.