Assad Says Public Support Assures He Will Continue to Lead #Syria
Published: July 9, 2012
BEIRUT, Lebanon – President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said in an interview on German television that public support for his rule meant he would remain in office, and maintained that victims among government supporters including the military outnumbered those among civilians.
The interview came in tandem with a visit by Kofi Annan, the special envoy on Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League, to Damascus for talks on Monday about rescuing his six-point peace plan from oblivion. He was to fly on to Iran afterward.
In Damascus, Mr. Annan told reporters that he had reached an agreement with Mr. Assad on an approach to end the violence, but he did not provide any details.
There were reports of scattered violence around Syria on Monday, with particularly heavy government shelling directed at Ariha in northern Idlib province and a number of victims, opposition activists said. The government and armed opposition have been vying for control of territory in the province for months.
Mr. Assad said in the interview with the German television network ARD broadcast on Sunday that he continued to support the Annan peace plan. Among other points it calls for a cease-fire, a political transition and humanitarian aid — all aspects that Mr. Assad’s critics said he had ignored since accepting the plan in March.
The Syrian leader rarely grants interviews, but as in previous such encounters, he blamed the United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supporting the “terrorists” he accused of fomenting the violence in Syria.
“As long as you offer any kind of support to terrorists, you are partner” said Mr. Assad, speaking in English. “Whether you send them armament or money or public support, political support in the United Nations, anywhere.”
Although Western and Arab governments have repeatedly said that Mr. Assad must go, and even Syria’s main foreign supporter, Russia, has said it is not tied to his rule, the Syrian leader said he did not believe his remaining as president was an impediment to peace.
“The United States is against me, the West is against me, many regional powers and countries and the people against me, so, how could I stay in this position?” he said. “The answer is, I still have a public support.”
The Syrian leader suggested that the number of people killed among his supporters was far greater than his opponents. He counted the more than 100 victims of the Houla massacre in May among his supporters, accusing anti-government “gang” members of donning army uniforms to make it look like a government attack.
“The majority are people who support the government and large part of the others are innocent people who have been killed by different groups in Syria,” he said. “If you talk about the supporters of the government – the victims from the security and the army – are more than the civilians.”
A report last week by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, estimated the number of victims up to 17,000. The official Syrian government news agency, SANA, publishes a daily toll of soldiers, but the last total released by the government was around 3,000.
Mr. Assad conceded that some of the civilian deaths might have been carried out by government forces but said those were under investigation and some members of the security forces had been jailed. There has been no public announcement of any results.
The first such case he announced last spring would be investigated was his relative, Atef Najib, the head of the intelligence services in the southern city of Deraa. They were accused of torturing to death a 12-year-old boy, Hamza Khatib.
As usual, Mr. Assad blamed the violence on a mixture of Al Qaeda forces and other extremists, including “outlaws who escaped the police for years, mainly smuggling drugs from Europe to the Gulf area.”
Dialogue with the opposition, even those in exile, was possible as long as they had not broken any laws in attacking Syria or calling for external interference. Both the government and the opposition claim the violence has to stop before dialogue can start, effectively freezing any efforts to forge a political solution.
Mr. Assad stressed that his first priority was security and said he did not fear the fate of other leaders in the region like President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, rejecting any comparison.
“But to be scared, you have to compare,” he said. “Do we have something in common? It’s a completely different situation. What’s happening in Egypt is different from what is happening in Syria. The historical context is different, the social fabric is different and our policy was always different. So, what is in common? You cannot compare.”
Source: The New York Times