Issam Zahreddine said army would never 'forget or forgive' those who fled, but later apologises and says he was referring to IS fighters
A top commander in the Syrian army has apologised after apparently warning those who had fled the country not to return, saying on state television: "If you know what is good for you, none of you return."
Issam Zahreddine, a major general in the Republican Guard, apparently "advised" all those who fled that the army would not "forget or forgive".
"To those who fled Syria to another country, I beg you don’t ever return, because even if the government forgives you, we will never forgive or forget," he said.
"If you know what is good for you, none of you return."
The commander later apologised and said his comment was misinterpreted, and he was only referring to Islamic State and rebel fighters who had killed Syrian troops.
He told state TV in a later appearance: "Yesterday I made a statement which was misinterpreted by some people who want to misinterpret my words. I was talking after I had seen the bodies of many Syrian soldiers who had been executed and beheaded and chopped into pieces.
"I was addressing Daesh (IS) people who had done these things. Of course our fellow citizens who have gone abroad are most welcome to return. We adhere to law and the instructions of the government and president. The words of our president are our Bible".
There are more than five million Syrian refugees, and 6.5 million displaced internally, together accounting for half of the entire population, figures from the UN show.
Zahreddine is a celebrated figure among Assad supporters, and had been leading the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria’s Deir Ezzor Province.
His past actions are not without controversy. In 2016, he was photographed posing next to dead bodies which appeared to have been tortured.
His latest remarks were made in an interview marking the lifting of the siege of the city of Deir Ezzor, partly occupied by IS militants since 2014.
Social media users responded to the video.
Assadist general threatens refugees who return to Syria: "we will not forgive and forget." I believe him: https://t.co/0JR274Xfza
— Michael Weiss (@michaeldweiss) September 11, 2017
Major General Issam Zahreddine celebrates liberation of Deir Ezzor by telling Syrian refugees they can never return. This Nakba is permanent https://t.co/7Nd78JPwqu
— (((Pat Hilsman))) (@PatrickHilsman) September 11, 2017
— Asaad Hanna (@AsaadHannaa) September 11, 2017
Translation: Issam Zahreddine, Hassan Nasrullah, Bashar al-Assad, Jameel Hassan, Ali Maalok, and all of the mafia war criminals of Assad: Syrians will all return to Syria, but after you will have all left for the Hague to sit in its court cage and to spend what is left of this life in prison.