PHOTO: President Assad speaking to London’s Sunday Times last week
In the latest of a series of interviews with foreign media, Syria’s President Assad has dismissed the launch of French and British operations against the Islamic State, indicating that only he and his ally Russia can fight “terrorists”.
London’s Sunday Times conducted the 35-minute interview in Damascus last Wednesday, hours before the British Parliament authorized airstrikes inside Syria for the first time.
Despite his position that he is dedicated to vanquishing ISIS, Assad immediately rejected British intervention because it had not obtained his approval. At the same time, he upheld Russia’s bombing, which began on September 30 and his largely been conducted against opposition-held areas rather than the Islamic State:
We are a sovereign country. Look at the Russians, when they wanted to make this alliance against terrorism, the first thing they did was they started discussions with the Syrian government before anyone else. Then they started discussing the same issue with other governments. Then they came. So, this is the legal way to combat any terrorist around the world.
Specifically, Assad objected to the idea that Britain and other countries could work with Syrian rebels to defeat the Islamic State in northern Syria:
This is a new episode in a long series of [British Prime Minister] David Cameron’s classical farce, to be very frank. This is not acceptable. Where are they? Where are the 70 thousand moderates that he is talking about? That is what they always talk about: moderate groups in Syria. This is a farce based on offering the public factoids instead of facts….
There is no 70,000, there is no 7,000, he does not have, maybe now ten of those.
To back up his claim, Assad tried to sweep away US support of Kurdish-led units fighting ISIS in northeastern Syria and to assert — without evidence — that he had been providing arms to the Kurds: “We sent them armaments, because they are Syrian citizens, and they want to fight terrorism. We do the same with many other groups in Syria, because you cannot send the army to every part of Syria.”
On the political front, Assad again pushed back the proposal of early elections, even though his allies Russia and Iran pressed for its acceptance by an international conference. Asked for his alternative, he replied:
Whoever wants to join us [in fighting terrorism] is welcome, and whether they join us or not, we are going to continue. This is our plan. It is the only plan we have and we will not change it.
The President avoided taking responsibility for any of the more than 300,000 deaths in the 57-month conflict: “In every war there are always too many innocent casualties. These are only avoidable by bringing that war to an end.”
Sanctioned Businessman Haswani: Assad Regime Never Bought Oil from ISIS
Businessman George Haswani, a dual Syrian-Russian national sanctioned by the US for his alleged role in obtaining the Islamic State’s oil for the Assad regime, has denied any links.
“I confirm, the Syrian government has not received a single barrel of oil from Daesh [the Islamic State],” Haswani told Russian State outlet TASS.
While in Russia, Haswani established the corporation HESCO for Oil and Gas with licenses from a Russian gas and oil company. The corporation also allegedly delivered spare parts to Russian military vehicles and oil wells.
Two weeks ago, the US Treasury included Haswani amid Syrian firms and individuals sanctioned for alleged evasion of restrictions on the Syrian economy and for trade with ISIS. Last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asserted that a “Russian-Syrian citizen” had been buying oil from the Islamic State and said, “They [Russia] should give an account of this.”
Haswani told TASS that all the claims against him are based on a single article, published on the Internet by the Syrian opposition and used by the European Union and later by the US as they sanctioned him.
“The accusations are groundless,” he said. “I have begun legal proceedings against the EU, which continues now.”
In March, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond announced the EA sanctions on Haswani:
We have…agreed to target individuals supplying oil to the regime, including George Haswani, a middleman buying oil from [Islamic State] on behalf of the regime. This listing gives yet another indication that Assad’s “war” on ISIS is a sham and that he supports them financially.
Video: Civil Defense Rescuing Victims of Regime Shelling of Douma
Civil defense personnel rescue victims of the latest regime attack on the Damascus suburb of Douma:
— AEJ خليل ้้้้้็็็็ (@AEJKhalil) December 6, 2015
The Syrian regime, which has killed hundreds of civilians in Douma since the summer, has bombarded opposition-held areas near Damascus this week.
Activists are also reporting an attack on a market in Zamalka on Sunday.
Turkey Protests Russian Sailors Displaying Missiles in Transit Through Bosporus Strait
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has protested the display by surface-to-air missiles by Russian sailors on a warship transiting the Bosporus Strait, saying it was “provocative” and “harassing”.
On Friday, media outlets showed photographs of a sailor holding a SAM in the firing position as the Russian warship Caesar Kuniko passed by Istanbul in strait connecting the Black Sea with the Mediterranean.
If Turkey perceived any ship’s transit as a threat, it will give the necessary reaction. A Russian soldier’s showing missile or such a munition system while passing on a Russian warship is a provocation. We hope this incident is a one-time event, because it is not the right approach.
The Bosporus offers the only passage to the world’s oceans for the Russian Black Sea fleet. The 1936 Montreux Treaty obliges Turkey to allow all ships to pass during peacetime.
Reports: Turkish Forces Beat Up 2nd Syrian Journalist in 4 Days
Reports are circulating that Mohammad al-Khatieb, a freelance Syrian journalist who has reported for publications like Al-Monitor, has been beaten by Turkish security forces as he crossed the border.
— أبو فراس الحلبي (@aboferasalhalab) December 6, 2015
Last Thursday, journalist Nagieb Khaja said he suffered the same fate:
Turkish border guards beat me up severely even though I showed them my press while crossing the Syrian border pic.twitter.com/cVMhA3KVA8
— Nagieb Khaja (@NagiebK) December 2, 2015
Russia: US “Theater of the Absurd” Will Lead to “Blood in Its Streets”
Wary of contacts with Syria’s opposition and rebel groups, the Russian Defense Ministry has said that a US “theater of the absurd” will lead to terrorist attacks in America and Europe.
General Igor Konashenkov said in a Saturday briefing:
Recent statements of officials of the Pentagon and Department of State remind of the ‘theatre of the absurd’ based on double standards and quibbling. They either see it or not. They do divide the opposition — either it is moderate or immoderate. Even terrorists they regard as bad and very bad….
This short-sighted position might echo with blood in the streets of your and our cities.
Konanshenkov tried to link the warning to the Russian PR line of the “same fundamental truth” that the Turkish Government is linked to the Islamic State through support of ISIS’s oil trade.
The General said that the US Government’s questioning of the Russian claim was “direct patronage” of the Turkey-ISIS link.
On Friday, the American coordinator for international energy affairs, Amos Hochstein, said, “The amount of oil being smuggled is extremely low and has decreased over time and is of no significance from a volume perspective — both volume of oil and volume of revenue.”
A series of Russian videos and photographs have portrayed three claimed routes for the Islamic State’s oil, two of which pass through areas controlled by Kurdish and regime forces.
Russia has also refrained from noting that the Islamic State’s oil is distributed to other countries such as Iraq and into both regime-controlled and rebel-held areas of Syria.
Rebels Retake Villages from ISIS in Northern Aleppo Province
Rebels have recaptured a series of villages from the Islamic State in northern Aleppo Province, in the ongoing battle between the two sides for control of area near the Turkish border.
Rebel spokesmen announced the capture of the territory on Saturday:
— Abu Ameen (@Abo_ameen2) December 5, 2015
Assisted by sustained Russian airstrikes on the rebel-held area, The Islamic State had closed within several kilometers of Azaz, a key town for supplies and transit near the Bab al-Salama border crossing with Turkey.
The rebels and ISIS have fought on a front-line between Azaz and Mare’ since early 2014. Turkey has proposed that the area become part of a 98-kilometer (61-mile) protected zone, clearing out the Islamic State and shielding it from regime and Russian airstrikes.