Breaking. Russia setting up military installations in northeastern Syria, in YPG-held area

Global Research, May 03, 2017
South Front 2 May 2017
Video on South Front website

A number of Russian troops and vehicles have entered the area of the Afrin Canton controlled by fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), according to photos and videos appearing online.

Pro-Kurdish media activists speculate that the Russian military is going to set up a military base or even a “joint military base” in the YPG-held area near the border with Turkey.

According to more neutral sources, Russian military servicemen are setting up two posts near the border in order to monitor possible clashes between Kurdish militias and the Turkish military.

This comes amid increasing US military activity along the Syrian-Turkish border. According to Kurdish sources in northeastern Syria, US troops have been patrolling the Kurdish-held areas bordering Turkey. Thus, US troops are a buffer force that should prevent Ankara from combating Kurdish militias in Syria.

The YPG which is a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and a core of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is described by Turkey as a terrorist group.

In the province of Raqqah, the SDF is very close to capturing the whole area of the town of Tabqah from ISIS. When Tabqah is secured, the SDF, supported by the US-led coalition’s air power, artillery, and military advisors, will focus on securing the Tabqa dam and will continue attempts to further isolate Raqqah.

Earlier this week, western backed militant groups captured Al-Humaymah southwest of Deir Ezzor. This operation was part of the broader effort aimed at expanding control along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

With the collapsing of ISIS defenses in central Syria and in the area of the Iraqi city of Mosul, various factions involved in the Syrian conflict have increased efforts aimed at gaining control of as many important areas as possible.

While there is little doubt that the SDF, with significant US military assistance, will be able to seize Raqqah one day, the Deir Ezzor countryside and areas along the Syrian-Iraqi border will remain contested between US-backed forces and the Syrian government.

Fighting between government troops and ISIS terrorists continued near the Talilah crossroad east of Palmyra. ISIS has been conducting harassment operations against the Syrian Arab Army in the area in order to prevent a possible government advance along the Palmyra-Deir Ezzor road.

Government forces, led by the Republican Guard, continued military operations against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its allies in the district of Qaboun in eastern Damascus. Government troops there are seeking to divide the pocket into two separated parts. This will be a major move, if accomplished, on the way to a full liberation of the area from militants.

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Why a Kurdish enclave in Syria is a very bad idea

From Global Research

April 7th, 2016
by Maram Susli

[The following points present] a few simple reasons why PYD/YPG claims to federal autonomy and attempts to annex Syrian land are illegitimate, undemocratic, and could lead to genocide:

1. Kurds are not a majority in the Area PYD/YPG are attempting to annex

The region of Al Hasakah, which the Kurdish Nationalist Party (PYD) and its military wing YPG have declared a federal Kurdish state, does not have a Kurdish majority. Al Hasakah Governorate is a mosaic of Assyrian Christians, Armenians, Turkmen, Kurds and Bedouin Arabs. Of the 1.5 million population of Al Hasakah, only 40% are ethnically Kurdish. Moreover, parts of Al Hasakah Governorate, such as Al Hasakah district, is less than 15% Kurdish (!). In the other large minorities in the area the Arabs and Assyrian Christians form a majority. Declaring a small area with a wide array of ethnic groups as belonging to a specific ethnic minority is a recipe for oppression.

The Kurdish population of Al Hasakah has also been heavily inflitrated by illegal Kurdish immigration from Turkey. Kurdish immigration to Syria began in the 1920’s and occurred in several waves after multiple failed Kurdish uprisings against Turkey. It continued throughout the century. In 2011 the Kurdish population in Syria reached between 1.6 to 2.3 million, but 420,000 of these left Syria for Iraq and Turkey as a result of the current conflict. Some Syrian Kurds have lived in Homs and Damascus for hundreds of years and are heavily assimilated into the Syrian society. However, Kurdish illegal immigrants who mostly reside in north Syria, and who could not prove their residence in Syria before 1945, complain of oppression when they were not granted the rights of Syrian citizens. Syrian law dictates that only a blood born Syrian whose paternal lineage is Syrian has a right to Syrian citizenship. No refugee whether Somali, Iraqi or Palestinian has been granted Syrian citizenship no matter how long their stay. In spite of this, in 2011 the Syrian President granted Syrian citizenship to 150,000 Kurds. This has not stopped the YPG from using illegal Kurdish immigrants who were not granted citizenship as a rationale for annexing Syrian land. Those who promote Federalism are imposing the will of a small minority – that is not of Syrian origin – on the whole of Al Hasakah’s population and the whole of Syria.

2. It is Undemocratic to Impose Federalism on the Majority of Syrians

PYD did not bother to consult with other factions of Syrian society before its unilateral declaration of Federalism. The other ethnicities that reside in Al Hasake governate, which PYD claims is now an autonomous Kurdish state, have clearly rejected federalism. An assembly of Syrian clans and Arab tribes in Al Hasaka and the Assyrian Democratic Organization (ADO) rejected PYD’s federalism declaration. In Geneva, both the Syrian government and the opposition rejected PYD’s federalism declaration. Furthermore, PYD does not represent all of Syria’s Kurdish population. The Kurdish faction of Syrian national coalition condemned PYD’s federalism declaration. Most of Syria’s Kurds do not live in Al Hasakah and many that do work outside it. Thousands of Kurds have joined ISIS and are fighting for an Islamic State not a Kurdish one.

Unilateral declaration of federalism carries no legitimacy since federalism can only exist with a constitutional change and a Referendum. Federalism is unlikely to garner much support from the bulk of Syria’s population, 90-93% of whom is not Kurdish. Knowing this, PYD have banned residents of Al Hasakah from voting in the upcoming Parliamentary elections to be held across the nation. This shows the will of the people in Al Hasakah is already being crushed by PYD. It is undemocratic to continue to discuss federalism as a possibility when it has been rejected by so many segments of Syrian society. Ironically we are told the purpose of the US’ Regime change adventure in Syria is to bring democracy to the middle east.

3. Federalism May Risk Ethnic cleansing of Assyrian Christian and other minorities

Since the Kurdish population are not a majority in the areas PYD are trying to annex, the past few years have revealed that PYD/YPG are not beyond carrying out ethnic cleansing of non-Kurdish minorities in an attempt to achieve a demographic shift. The main threat to Kurdish ethnocentric territorial claims over the area are the other large minorities, the Arabs and the Assyrian Christians.

Salih Muslim, the leader of PYD, openly declared his intention to conduct an ethnic cleansing campaign against Syrian Arabs who live in what he now calls Rojava. “One day those Arabs who have been brought to the Kurdish areas will have to be expelled,” said Muslim in an interview with Serek TV. Over two years since that interview he has fulfilled his word, as YPG begun burning Arab villages around Al Hasakah Province hoping to create a demographic shift. It is estimated that ten thousands Arab villagers have been ethnically cleansed from Al Hasake province so far. The villages around Tal Abayad have suffered the most as Kurdish expansionists seek to connect the discontiguous population centres of Al Hasakah and Al Raqqa. “The YPG burnt our village and looted our houses,” said Mohammed Salih al-Katee, who left Tel Thiab Sharki, near the city of Ras al-Ayn, in December.

YPG have also begun a campaign of intimidation, murder and property confiscation against the Assyrian Christian minority. The YPG and PYD made it a formal policy to loot and confiscate the property of those who had escaped their villages after an ISIS attack, in the hope of repopulating Assyrian villages with Kurds. The Assyrians residents of the Khabur area in Al Hasaka province formed a militia called the Khabour Guard in the hope of defending their villages against ISIS attacks. The Khabur Guard council leaders protested the practice of looting by Kurdish YPG militia members who looted Assyrian villages that were evacuated after ISIS attacked them. Subsequently, the YPG assassinated the leader of the Khabur Guard David Jindo and attempted to Assassinate Elyas Nasser. At first the YPG blamed the assassination on ISIS but Elyas Nasser, who survived, was able to expose the YPG’s involvement from his hospital bed. Since the assassination YPG has forced the Khabour Guard to disarm and to accept YPG ‘protection.’ Subsequently most Assyrian residents of the Khabour who had fled to Syrian Army controlled areas of Qamishli City could not return to their villages.

The Assyrian Christian community in Qamishli has also been harassed by YPG Kurdish militia. YPG attacked an Assyrian checkpoint killing one fighter of the Assyrian militia Sootoro and wounding three others. The checkpoint was set up after three Assyrian restaurants were bombed on  December 20, 2016 in an attack that killed 14 Assyrian civilians. Assyrians suspected that YPG was behind these bombings in an attempt to assassinate Assyrian leaders and prevent any future claims of control over Qamishli.

It would be foolish to ignore the signs that more widely spread ethnic cleansing campaigns may occur if Kurdish expansionists are supported, especially since other ethnic groups are not on board with their federalism plans. It has only been 90 years since the Assyrian genocide which was conducted by Turks and Kurds. This history should not be allowed to be repeated. Assyrians have enjoyed safety and stability in the Syrian state since this time. Forcing the Assyrians to accept federalism is not going to ensure their safety. Establishment of a federal Kurdish state in Iraq has not protected Assyrian villages from attacks by Kurdish armed groups either. The campaign of ethnic cleansing against both Assyrians and Arabs in Al Hasakah has already begun and may now only escalate.

4. The Resources in Al Hasake are shared between all Syrians

While Kurds make up only 7-10% of Syria’s total population, PYD demands 20% of Syria’s land. What’s more, the region of Al hasakah that YPG want to annex has a population of only 1.5 million people. Much of Syria’s agriculture and oil wealth is located in Al Hasakah and is shared by Syria’s 23 million people. Al Hasakah province produces 34% of Syria’s wheat and much of Syria’s oil. The oil pumping stations are now being used by ISIS and YPG’s Kurds to fund their war efforts while depriving the Syrian people.

While headlines abound about Syria’s starving population, there is little talk of how federalising Syria could entrench this starvation into law for generations to come. Instead, promoters of Federalism talk about how giving the resources shared by 23 million people to 1.5 million people will lead to peace.

5. A Kurdish Region in Syria will be a Threat to Global Security

Since the majority of Syria’s population and Syria’s government oppose Kurdish annexation claims, PYD will not be able to achieve federalism through legal means. The only way the PYD and YPG can achieve federalism is through brute force. This brute force may backed by the US air force and an invasion by special forces which contradicts international law. Head of PYD Saleh Islam has already threatened to attack Syrian troops if they attempt to retake Raqqa from ISIS. A Kurdish state in Syria as the Iraqi Kurdistan ensures US hegemony in the region. Like the KRG [1] the YPG are already attempting to build a US base on Syrian soil. Russia, which has been an ally of Syria for a long time, will be further isolated as a result. This will once again tip the balance of power in the world.

All of Syria’s neighbouring countries are also opposed to an ethnocentric Kurdish state in Syria. The YPG is linked to the PKK, which is active in Turkey and which the United Nations has designated a terrorist organisation. Turkey will see YPG’s federalism claims as strengthening the PKK. Turkey may invade Syria as a result, guaranteeing at least a regional war. This regional war could involve Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Israel.

Israel wants to establish a Kurdistan, as a Sunni-Iranian rival to Shi’ite Iran. They hope such a Sunni state will block Iran’s access to Syria and will also prevent Lebanese resistance against Israeli invasion. This was all outlined in Israel’s Yinon Plan published in 1982. Israel is an extension of US influence and hegemony in the region, the Israeli lobby holds much sway over US politics. Strengthening Israel in the region will strengthen US influence over the region, once again shrinking Russian influence and  pushing the nuclear power into a corner. Journalists who show a sense of confusion about the reason the West is supportive of Kurdish expansionism should consider this point.

Finally, a designated ‘Kurdish area’ in Syria is deeply rooted in ethnocentric chauvinism. A US state strictly designated for Hispanic, White or Black ethnicity would be outrageous to suggest and would be considered racist. But the use of ethnicity as a means to divide and conquer is the oldest and most cynical form of imperialism. Syria must remain for all Syrians, not just for one minority. Voices who oppose this should be discouraged. The Syrian Constitution should continue to resist all ethnocentric religious-based parties. If there is a change to the Syrian constitution, it should be the removal of the word Arab from Syrian Arab Republic. In spite of the fact that the vast majority Syrians speak the Arabic language, the majority of Syrian are historically not ethnically Arab. All sections of Syrian society should be treated equally under the Syrian flag.

Notes:

[1] The Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq

http://www.globalresearch.ca/why-a-kurdish-enclave-in-syria-is-a-very-bad-idea/5519109

“Advise & Assist”: US Special Forces photographed on front lines in Syria with Kurds

Global Research, May 29, 2016
21st Century Wire 27 May 2016

US special forces soldiers have been caught on camera fighting on the front lines with the Kurds against ISIS in Syria.

The troops were spotted by an AFP photographer, who said there are just over a dozen of them in the village of Fatisah; just 30 miles north of Raqqa.

Some of the troops are wearing plain clothes, while others are in military garb carrying the insignia of the Kurdish YPG:

This takes the mission to ‘assist’ quite far indeed.

Watch a video of this report below, or here on Youtube:

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Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook admitted that:

“Our special operations forces in the past have, yes, worn insignias and other identifying marks with their partner forces,”

“They do what they can to blend in.”

However, he stressed:

“They are not on the forward line. They are providing advice and assistance, their advise-and-assist role has not changed.”

Cook couldn’t explain the difference between the forward line and the front line, saying:

“I don’t have a yardstick for you. This is a fluid situation.”

Unfortunately for the United States, there is absolutely nothing fluid about the fact that these troops are operating illegally in Syria as they do not have the explicit permission of the Syrian government to be there; unlike the Russians who did have such a mandate.

What do you think these special forces soldiers have been tasked with doing exactly?

The Turkish and Saudi intervention in Syria. Towards a broader war

Global Research, February 15, 2016
South Front 15 February 2016

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies are advancing to the West of the Raqqa province. Currently, the Syrian Armed Forces are approximately 35 km away from the Tabqa military airport — their primary objective in Raqqa at the moment. The Syrian forces are also pursuing to secure the Salamiyah-Raqqa highway.

The Kurdish fighters, backed by Russian warplanes are currently engaged in intense clashes with the terrorist groups at the Western entrance of the town of Tal Rifat town in the Aleppo province. It’s confirmed that several terrorists of al-Nusra, including their commander Abdulsalam al-Saan, were killed in the air raids in the area of Tal Rifat.

Since Feb.13, the Turkish army has been shelling Syrian government forces and Kurdish targets mainly in the area near the city of Azaz in northwestern Syria, including the Menagh military air base recently retaken from the Syrian al Qaeda affilate, al Nusra. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone on Feb.14 that Turkey’s military will continue to shell Kurdish YPG clashing ISIS in northern Syria.

In a separate statement, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Ankara and Riyadh may launch a joint operation to fight ISIS in Syria. Considering at least that Turkish elites are deeply involved in the oil smuggling with ISIS and Saudi Arabia is a main sponsor of the al Nusra terrorist group, the only real reason of this intervention could be an attempt to prevent the gains of the Syrian government’s forces and Kurds supported by the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces against terrorists in Northern Syria. If the terrorist groups are cut from the Turkish border, they will lost their main source of supplies and reinforcements.

Moreover, on Feb.14, Turkey has reportedly relocated 400 militants from Idlib province to Aleppo via its soil to block the Kurdish fighters’ rapid advances in Northern Aleppo province.

On Feb.13, it was discovered that a massive shipment of ground-to-ground “Grad” missiles has been sent by the US allies, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to militants fighting against the Syrian government.

Note:

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America and Turkey begin ground invasion of Syria. How will Russia respond?

By Donbass International News Agency
Global Research, January 24, 2016
dninews 21 January 2016

Amidst an almost total western media blackout, Turkey and the US have initiated a military invasion in Syrian territory. On Wednesday evening, the Turkish army reportedly entered Syrian territory near Jarablus. US troops took control of Rmeilan airfield in Syria’s northern province of Hasakah. It’s unclear what are the real objectives for western military operations on Syrian soil According to the latest news, a major Turkish intervention is expected.

‘US troops have taken control of Rmeilan airfield in Syria’s northern province of Hasakah to support Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)”, a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told Al Jazeera on Tuesday. The airfield is close to Syria’s borders with Iraq and Turkey.

Syrian Local Coordination Committees say that the US has been preparing and expanding Rmeilan airport for a while now. When asked by Al Jazeera, a US CENTCOM media operations officer did not confirm or deny the reports.

According to information received by Sputnik on Wednesday, Turkey has been amassing military units along the Syrian border. The number of troops is estimated to be around 1,000. The troops have reportedly crossed into Aleppo province, according to Hawar News, along with military vehicles, heavy equipment, and mine detection gear. Turkey has denied reports of an invasion, but reports from the ground confirm the military incursion.

Russia Insider writes, that Turkey has seized the ISIS-controlled town of Jarabulus, but faced no resistance, according to reports:

“Eyewitnesses to the incursion reported that the Turkish forces have not encountered any resistance from ISIS fighters in the area. These reports once again raise the question of possible collaboration between Turkey and ISIS aimed at halting the advance of the Kurdish militias in north Syria.”

The Turkish operation is “officially” aimed at combating Daesh (ISIS) militants, who have fortified Jarablus. But sources tell Sputnik that Ankara may be more interested in preventing the YPG from gaining a foothold in a region of strategic importance. Various reports indicate that Ankara could soon (if it has not already) launch a ground operation in neighboring Syria, confirms Sputnik on Thursday.

STRATFOR: “WARZONE IS RAPIDLY BECOMING CROWDED”

“Turkey has already begun to ramp up its artillery strikes along its border with Syria to help its rebel allies and to destroy Islamic State targets. This could indicate an effort to soften enemy defenses ahead of a Turkish ground incursion once minesweeping operations have been completed,” Stratfor explained.

“Ankara’s ground operation – if launched – could deal a blow to Daesh. But many experts and politicians have pointed out that Turkey views dealing with the Kurds, not the terrorist group, as its key priority. The offensive than “would also strengthen the [Turkey-backed] rebels in northern Syria, in turn preventing the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from expanding their reach westward,” Stratfor noted.

Turkey’s ground offensive will likely add additional stress to the already strained relations between Ankara and Moscow. According to Stratfor:

“Still, that does not mean that Ankara, with Washington’s help, is not trying to reach an understanding with Moscow, at least in terms of setting up deconfliction procedures to avoid clashing with each other in the Syrian Warzone, which is rapidly becoming crowded.”

HOW WILL RUSSIA RESPOND?

RT reports that ISIS terrorists have increased their activities ahead of next week’s inter-Syrian talks, with insurgents in the Syrian province of Aleppo receiving reinforcements from Turkey, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. The much-anticipated talks between the Syrian government and different opposition groups are scheduled to take place in  Geneva on January 25.

“Unfortunately, in recent days, it’s especially noticeable that ahead of the planned start of the inter-Syrian negotiations in Geneva the activities of terrorist groups have intensified. Obviously, they’re trying to turn the tide in their favor on the battlefield,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during a briefing in Moscow.

Zakharova said that Russia is concerned over Ankara’s increased military incursions into Syria, adding that

“it cannot be ruled out that… fortifications [built by Turkey] along the Syrian-Turkish border may be used by militant groups as strongholds.”

“While all parties involved pin their hopes on the start of a meaningful and… inclusive dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition, external forces continue to help militants in Syria, including terrorist groups, providing them with arms and ammunition,” she stressed.

Notes:

http://sputniknews.com/middleeast/20160120/1033456296/turkey-jarablus.html

https://www.rt.com/news/329675-aleppo-militants-reinforcements-turkey/

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/takes-control-rmeilan-airfield-syr…

http://sputniknews.com/middleeast/20160121/1033489316/turkey-syria-isis-…

https://www.stratfor.com/sample/analysis/iraq-syria-battlespace-0

http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/turkish-forces-moves-syria-how-wil…

The original source of this article is dninews

Copyright © Donbass International News Agency, dninews, 2016

 

Iraq: Turkey has 48 hours to withdraw

From Fort Russ

6th December, 2015
Al-Masdar News

Iraq’s National Security Council, headed by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, has announced that Turkey has 48 hours to withdraw from Iraq’s territory before it uses “all available options.”

The Shi’ite militia, Kataib Hezbollah, that is backed by Iran released a statement promising to retaliate against the Turkish incursion that is violating Iraqi sovereignty.

In the last 24 hours, Turkey has stated it will deploy up to 2000 troops in Iraq, up from a few hundred. They claim they were legally asked by the Kurdish Regional Government to help in the fight against ISIS. Baghdad claims they are the only sole legitimate government in Iraq.

In recent weeks, Shi’ite militias have also vowed to fight against US troops in Iraq if were to be deployed there.

http://www.fortruss.blogspot.com/2015/12/iraq-turkey-has-24-hours-to-withdraw.html

Interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; “Britain and France were the spearheads in supporting the terrorists in Syria”

Global Research, December 06, 2015
SANA News 6 December 2015

Damascus – President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to The Sunday Times in which he said Britain and France have neither the will nor the vision on how to defeat terrorism and their airstrikes against ISIS will yield no results, but will rather be illegal and harmful in that they will help in spreading terrorism.

The following is the full text of the interview:

 Question 1:  Thank you for seeing us Mr President.  As you know, the British government today will be voting on whether it will join the coalition airstrikes against ISIS. Is Britain right to join airstrikes against ISIS in Syria? And do you welcome its involvement; and will it make things worse or not make a change?

President Assad:  If I want to let’s say, evaluate a book, I cannot take or single out a phrase from that book to evaluate the whole book.  I have to look at the headlines, then the titles of the chapters and then we can discuss the rest of the book.  So, what we are talking about is only an isolated phrase.  If we want to go back to the headline, it is “the will to fight terrorism.”  We know from the very beginning that Britain and France were the spearheads in supporting the terrorists in Syria, from the very beginning of the conflict.  We know that they don’t have that will, even if we want to go back to the chapter on military participation with the coalition, it has to be comprehensive, it has to be from the air, from the ground, to have cooperation with the troops on the ground, the national troops for the interference or participation to be legal.  It is legal only when the participation is in cooperation with the legitimate government in Syria.  So, I would say they don’t have the will and they don’t have the vision on how to defeat terrorism.

And if you want to evaluate, let’s evaluate from the facts.  Let’s go back to the reality on the ground.  Since that coalition started its operation a year or so, what was the result? ISIS and al-Nusra and other like-minded organizations or groups, were expanding, expanding freely.  What was the situation after the Russians participated in fighting terrorism directly?  ISIS and al-Nusra started shrinking.  So I would say, first they will not give any results.  Second, it will be harmful and illegal, and it will support terrorism as what happened after the coalition started its operation a year or so, because this is like a cancer.  You cannot cut the cancer.  You have to extract it.  This kind of operation is like cutting the cancer that will make it spread in the body faster.

Question 2:  Are you saying, just to clarify two things, are you saying that the British, if the British join the intervention, that includes also the other coalition, with that intervention you see that is illegitimate from an international-law perspective?

President Assad:  Definitely, definitely, 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.

Britain and France helped in the rise of ISIS and al-Nusra in this region

Question 3:  You say that France and Britain are responsible for the rise of terrorism here. But they were not responsible for the rise of ISIS, for example, is not that a little bit a harsh accusation?

President Assad: Let’s start from what Blair said.  He said that invading Iraq led to the rise of ISIS.  And we know that ISIS started publically, announcing itself as a state in Iraq in 2006, and the leader was Abu Mosaab al-Zerqawi.  He was killed by American strikes; and they announced that they killed him.  So, they know he existed and they know that IS in Iraq at that time had existed; and that it moved to Syria after the beginning of conflict in Syria because of the chaos that happened.  So, they confess.  British officials confessed, mainly Blair; and the reality is telling, that they helped in the rise of ISIS and al-Nusra in this region.

President al-Assad-Sunday Times-interview 3

Question 4:  In your view, does al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, pose an equal or a greater long-term threat to the West than ISIS? And as such, is Britain’s Prime Minister, Cameron, going after the wrong enemy? I.e. he is going after ISIS instead of going after al-Nusra.

President Assad: The whole question is about the structure, and the problem is not about the structure of the organization.  It is about their ideology.  They do not base their actions on the structure, they base them on their dark, Wahhabi deviated ideology.  So, if we want to evaluate these two, the difference between the two, there is no difference because they have the same ideology.  This is one aspect.  The other aspect, if we want to talk about their grassroots, their followers, their members, you cannot have this distinction, because they move from one organization or one group to another.  And that is why sometimes they fight with each other, for their vested interests, on a local and small scale.  But in reality they are cooperating with each other on every level.  So, you cannot tell which is more dangerous because this is one mentality.  It is like if you say the first one is al-Qaida and the second one is al-Qaida.  The difference is the label, and maybe some other trivial things.

Question 5:  Last week, a key part of Cameron’s argument for extending UK airstrikes to Syria was a number that he used – 70 thousand moderate rebels – that he mentioned “don’t belong to extremist groups”, but are already on the ground, who the west can use to help them in the fight of ISIS. As far as you know, which groups are included in the 70 thousand? Are you aware of 70 thousand moderate rebels in Syria?

President Assad: Let me be frank and blunt about this.  This is a new episode in a long series of 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.

The Russians have been asking, since the beginning of their participation two months ago.  They have said: where are those moderates?  No one gave them an answer.  Actually, since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, there were no moderate militants in Syria.  All of them were extremists.  And in order not to say I am just giving excuses and so on, go back to the internet, go back to the social networking sites.  They uploaded their atrocities’ videos and pictures, with their faces and their rhetoric.  They use swords, they do beheadings; they ate the heart of a dismembered innocent person and so on.

And you know, the confession of a criminal is the incontrovertible fact.  So, those are the 70 thousand moderates he is taking about.  It is like if we describe the terrorists who committed the attack in Paris recently, and before that in Charlie Hebdo, and before that in the UK nearly ten years ago, and in Spain before that, and the 11th of September in New York, to describe them as moderate opposition.  That is not accepted anywhere in this world; and there is no 70 thousand, there is no 7 thousand, he does not have, maybe now ten of those.

Question 6:  Not even the Kurds and the FSA for example, the free Syrian army?

President Assad: The Kurds are fighting the terrorists with the Syrian army, in the same areas.

Question 7:  But they are also being supported and armed and trained and backed by the Americans to also launch, to fight …

President Assad:  Mainly by the Syrian army, and we have the documents.  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.  So, it is not only the Kurds.  Many other Syrians are doing the same.

Question 8: U.S. Secretary of state John Kerry said last Friday that the Syrian government could cooperate with the opposition forces against the ISIS even if president Assad is still in office, but he said that this would be so difficult if the opposition fighters, who have been fighting the Syrian president, don’t have a faith that the Syrian president will eventually leave power.

Kerry also said that concerning the timing of leaving office, the answer is it is not obvious whether he will have to leave.

Meanwhile, the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Le Progres Newspaper on Saturday that he no longer believes that President Assad’s departure is essential to any political transition in Syria, adding that the political transition does not mean that President Assad should step down before it but there should be future insurances.

My question: Do you intend to complete your presidential term until 2021 or do you expect a referendum or presidential elections prior to that date? And if so, when can these elections be held? And what can make you decide to hold them? And if they are held, is it certain that you will be running for election? What can influence your decision?

President Assad: The answer depends on the context of the question. If it is related to a settlement in Syria, then early elections have nothing to do with ending the conflict. This can only happen by fighting terrorists and ceasing Western and regional support for terrorists…Early elections will only be held as part of a comprehensive dialogue about future by the political powers and the civil society groups in Syria.

Thus, it is not about the will of the President, but rather the will of the Syrian people…It is about a political process. If this process is agreed on, then I have the right to run for elections like any other Syrian citizen…My decision in this case will be based on my ability to deliver on my commitments…and on whether I have the support of the Syrian people or not….Anyway, It is early to talk about this, because as you know, this process was not agreed upon yet.

President al-Assad-Sunday Times-interview 2

Question 9:   Do you think ISIS can be defeated by airstrikes alone?

You cannot defeat ISIS through airstrikes alone without cooperation with forces on the ground

President Assad:  Did the coalition defeat them by airstrikes during the last year or so?  It didn’t.  Did the Americans achieve anything from the airstrikes in Afghanistan?  They achieved nothing.  Did they achieve anything in Iraq since the invasion in 2003?  Nothing.  You cannot defeat ISIS through airstrikes alone, without cooperation with forces on the ground.  You cannot defeat them if you do not have buy-in from the general public and the government.  They cannot defeat ISIS by airstrikes; they are going to fail again.  The reality is telling.

Question 10:     If the international coalition refuses, as it has so far, to coordinate with the Syrian Army, or with the local troops on the ground, what is your next plan?  I mean do you have a plan B beyond what is going on?  How do you plan to end this war?

President Assad:  This coalition is illusive, it’s virtual, because it has not made any achievements in fighting terrorism on the ground in Syria.  Since an illusion doesn’t exist, let’s not waste time with the ‘before and after.’  From the very beginning we started fighting terrorism irrespective of any global or world powers.  Whoever wants to join us 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.

Question 11:  Are you calling on them to ask the Syrian government to coordinate and cooperate with the Syrian army and the Syrian air force in the fight against terrorists?

President Assad:  We are very realistic.  We know that they are not going to do so and that they don’t have the will.  This is more about international law than anything else.  Is it possible that western governments, or regimes, don’t know the basics of international law, that they don’t understand the meaning of a sovereign state or that they haven’t read the UN Charter?  They have no respect for international law and we didn’t ask for their cooperation.

Question 12:  But would you like them to?

President Assad:  If they are ready – serious and genuine – to fight terrorism, we welcome any country or government, any political effort.  In that regard we are not radical, we are pragmatic.  Ultimately, we want to resolve the situation in Syria and prevent further bloodshed.  That is our mission.  So, it’s not about love or hate, accepting or not, it is about reality.  Are they truly ready to help us fight terrorism, to stop terrorists coming into Syria through their surrogate governments in our region, or not?  That is the real question.  If they are ready, we will welcome them.  This is not personal.

Question 13:  Do you think it is possible for you, in Syria, and for your allies – Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and other allies – to defeat ISIS militarily; and if so, how long do you think it might take?

President Assad:  The answer is based on two factors: our capabilities on the one hand, and the support the terrorists receive on the other.  From our perspective, if you were to remove the support these groups get from various countries in our region and the West in general, it will take a matter of months to achieve our mission.  It is not very complicated, the solution is very clear to usHowever, these groups have unlimited support from these countries, which makes the situation drag on, makes it more complicated and harder to resolve.  This means our mission will be achieved at a much higher price, which will ultimately be paid by Syrians.

Question 14:  But there has already been a high price: over 200,000 people have been killed.

President Assad:  You are right, and that is a consequence of the support I referred to.

Question 15:  But a lot of it is also blamed on the Syrian government and the Syrian use of force, sometimes indiscriminate or unnecessary force in certain areas that has brought about a large number of people killed.  How do you respond to that?

President Assad:  First, all wars are bad.  There is no such thing as a good war.  In every war there are always too many innocent casualties.  These are only avoidable by bringing that war to an end.  So it is self-evident that wars anywhere in the world will result in loss of life.  But the rhetoric that has been repeated in the West for a long time ignores the fact that from day one terrorists were killing innocent people, it also ignores that fact that many of the people killed were supporters of the government and not vice versa.  As a government, our only countermeasure against terrorists is to fight them.  There is no other choice.  We cannot stop fighting the terrorists who kill civilians for fear of being accused by the West of using force.

Question 16: Let us talk about the role of Russia.  How important has the role of Russia been?  Was Syria about to fall had Russia not intervened when it did at the time?

Russia and Iran’s support played important part in Syria’s steadfastness against terrorism

President Assad: The Russian role is very important.  It has had a significant impact on both the military and political arena in Syria.  But to say that without this role, the government or the state would have collapsed, is hypothetical.  Since the very beginning of the conflict in Syria, there were bets on the collapse of the government.  First it was a few weeks, then it was a few months and then a few years.  Every time it was the same wishful thinking.  What is definite is that the Russian support to the Syrian people and government from the very beginning, along with the strong and staunch support of Iran, has played a very important part in the steadfastness of the Syrian state in the fight against terrorism.

Question 17: You mean the previous one, or the recent military intervention?

President Assad:  No, the whole support; it is not only about their participation.  Their support from the very beginning in all aspects: political, military and economic.

Question 18: How and why did Russian involvement come about now?  And can you give us some details of the discussions between you and President Putin that brought it about?  Who took the first step?  Did you ask, or did they offer?

The Russians want to protect Syria, Iraq, the region, themselves and even Europe

President Assad:  You will have to ask the Russians why they got involved.  But from our perspective, since the Western coalition started in Syria, ISIS has expanded, al-Nusra has expanded and every other extremist and terrorist group has expanded and captured new territory in Syria and Iraq.  The Russians clearly saw how this posed a threat to Syria, Iraq and the region in general, as well as to Russia and the rest of the world.  We can see this as a reality in Europe today.  If you read and analyse what happened in Paris recently and at Charlie Hebdo, rather than view them as separate incidences, you will realize something very important.  How many extremists cells now exist in Europe?  How many extremists did you export from Europe to Syria?  This is where the danger lies.  The danger is in the incubator.  The Russians can see this very clearly.  They want to protect Syria, Iraq, the region, themselves and even Europe.  I am not exaggerating by saying they are protecting Europe today.

Question 19: So, did they come to you and say we would like to be involved? Or did you ask them: could you help us?

President Assad:  It was an accumulative decision; it didn’t happen by me having this idea or them having another.  As you know, our relationship with the Russians goes back more than five decades, and they have always had military staff in Syria: call them experts or by any other name.  This cooperation accelerated and increased during the crisis.  Their teams are here and can see the situation real-time with us.  This kind of decision doesn’t start from the top down, but rather from the bottom up.  There is a daily political and military discussion between our two countries.  When it reached a presidential level, it was mature enough and ready for the decision to be made quickly.

Question 20: But there must have been a point when they said: we think, or with your agreement, we think that we should actually now physically get involved.

President Assad: Again, this was started at the lower levels.  These officials jointly agreed that it was necessary to get involved and each party discussed it with their leaders.  When it reached the stage of discussion between us, I mean between President Putin and I, we focused our discussions on the how.  Of course this did not happen directly as we had not yet met and it’s impossible to discuss these issues on the phone.   It was mediated through senior officials from both sides.  That is what happened.  In terms of procedure, I sent a letter to President Putin which included an invitation for their forces to participate.

Question 21:  So you asked president Putin having been advised by your officials.

President Assad:  Exactly, after we reached that point I sent President Putin a formal letter and we released a statement announcing that we had invited them to join our efforts.  Let’s not forget that President Putin had already taken the step when he said he was willing to create a coalition.  My response to this was that we are ready if you want to bring your forces to participate.

Question 22:  So, what forces have been deployed? I am talking about Russian forces. There have been reports, for example, of a thousand ground troops plus Special Forces, is this correct? Is there anytime when you think that the Russians will be involved in Syria, not just by air but with ground troops as well?

President Assad:  No, so far there is no such thing.  There are no ground troops except for the personnel that they send with their military staff and airplanes to guard the airbase, and that is natural.  They don’t have any ground troops fighting with Syrian forces at all.

Question 23:  And there is no plan for that?

President Assad:  We have not discussed that yet, and I don’t think we need it now, because things are moving in the right direction.  The Russians may consider it with time or under different circumstances, but for the moment, this has not been discussed.

Question 24: There was a report, or a hint, that Syria might be receiving S-300 from the Russians, and the S-300 will allow Syria to protect its airspace. Is this something, for example, that Syria will use against the US-led coalition’s air force, even if Britain was involved, since their warplanes are in Syrian skies, as you said earlier, without official or sovereign permission. As Syria will receive S-300, then will it use this to impose, if you want, protection of its skies and impose a way to tell the coalition that you have to actually directly deal with us, or coordinate with us on the ground?

We will use any means available to us to protect our airspace

President Assad:  That is our right and it is only to be expected that we prevent any airplane from violating our airspace.  That is completely legal.  We are going to use any means available to us to protect our airspace.  It is not about that armament in particular.  Any air defense we have is for that reason.

Question 25:  Do you have that defense at the moment?

President Assad:  No. So far we don’t have it.

Question 26:  If you get that defense?

President Assad:  Any defense systems we are going to have are for that purpose.  If we are not going to protect our airspace, then why buy such armaments in the first place?  That is self-evident.

Question 27:  And if you get it …

President Assad: Not at the moment; it is not our priority now.  Our priority is fighting the terrorists on the ground.  This is the most important danger now.  Of course we are keen to protect our airspace and prevent foreign interference in our internal affairs, militarily or other.  But the priority now is to defeat the terrorists.  By defeating the terrorists, some of whom are Syrians, we can move further in protecting the whole country from foreigners.  It is a matter of priorities.

Question 28:  But I meant about the actual coalition airplanes that are actually flying over Syria. So, that is not a priority either at the moment?

President Assad:  No, not at the moment.  At the moment the priority is fighting terrorism.

Question 29:  If Saudi Arabia were to invite you for serious discussions on the future of Syria, would you accept such an invitation? Or have relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia been severely severed that you would never consider that?

President Assad:  No, there is nothing impossible in politics.  It is not about whether I accept or not, but rather about the policies of each government.  What are their policies towards Syria? Are they going to keep supporting the terrorists or not? Are they going to continue playing their dangerous games in Syria, Yemen and other places?  If they are ready and willing to change their policies, especially with regard to Syria, we don’t have a problem meeting with them.  So it is not about the meeting or whether we go or not, the issue is their approach to what is happening in Syria.

Question 30:  Do you expect any results from the talks in Vienna?  And what would be the shape of any possible deal that you see coming out of Vienna?

President Assad:  The most important clause in the Vienna communique is that the Syrians should come together to discuss the future of Syria.  Everything else is an accessory.  If you don’t have that main part, the accessories are of no use.  So, the only solution is for us to come together as Syrians.  Vienna itself is a meeting to announce intentions; it is not the actual process of siting down and discussing the future.  So, the question is not what results from Vienna, but rather what we Syrians are able to achieve when we sit down together.

Question 31:  But do you realize that some of the opposition’s leaders, and I’m talking about opposition figures who have been against taking up arms and what have you, but are also afraid of coming to Syria, because the moment they land in Syria, they will be arrested by the security officers and put in prison. And it has happened to others.

President Assad:  No, it has never happened.  There is an opposition in Syria, and they are free to do whatever they want.

Question 32:  No, I mean the external opposition. For example, somebody like Haitham Mannaa, cannot come back.

President Assad:  We have clearly stated that when there is a gathering in Syria, which they want to attend, we guarantee that they will not be arrested or held.  We have said this many times.  We don’t have any problems in this regard.

President al-Assad-Sunday Times-interview 1

Question 33:  Now, Saudi Arabia invited 65 figures, including opposition leaders, even rebel commanders, businessmen, religious figures for a meeting in Saudi Arabia to present a united front in preparation for the January Vienna talks. Yet, the Syrian government, which is the other major element in this whole thing for the future of Syria, has not been seen to be involved with the opposition. Are you conducting any talks with the opposition? Have you reached any consensus with them?

President Assad:  We have direct channels with some opposition groups; but others cannot communicate with us because they are not allowed to do so by the governments that control them.  From our perspective, we are open for discussions with every peaceful opposition party.  We don’t have any problems.  With regards to the meeting in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi’s have been supporting terrorism directly, publically and explicitly.  That meeting will not change anything on the ground.  Before the meeting and after the meeting Saudi Arabia has been supporting terrorists and will continue to do so.  It is not a benchmark or a critical juncture to discuss.  It will not change anything.

Question 34:  Do you see that anytime, in the future, that in order to protect Syria, or in order to save Syria, or to get the Syria process moving, that you might see yourself sitting with certain groups, one group, or certain groups, that perhaps now you deem terrorist, but in the future, it might be feasible that you would agree to negotiate with them because it would do well for the future?

President Assad:  We already have; since the very beginning one of the pillars of our policy, was to start a dialogue with all parties involved in the conflict, whether they were in Syria or not.  We negotiated with many terrorist groups, not organizations – to be very precise, who wanted to give up their armaments, and return to normal life.  These negotiations led to many amnesties being issued and has proven to be very successful in several areas.  Furthermore, some of these fighters have joined the Syrian Army and are now fighting with our forces.  So yes, we are sitting down with those who committed illegal acts in Syria, whether political or military, to negotiate settlements on the condition that they give up their arms and return to normal life.  This doesn’t mean that we negotiate with terrorist organizations like ISIS, al-Nusra and others. This is what I meant by groups, those who want out of the fight, regret their choices and want to have their lives back.

Question 35:  The rebels call them barrel bombs. You refuse to refer to them as barrel bombs. Irrespective of the name, these were indiscriminate. Do you accept that Syria used indiscriminate bombs in some areas, which resulted in the death of many civilians?

President Assad:  Let us suppose that this part of the propaganda is true, which it isn’t.  But for the sake of argument, let us ask the same question regarding the different attacks committed by the Americans and the British with their state-of-the-art airplanes and missiles in Afghanistan and in Iraq, not only after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but also during the first Gulf war in 1990.  How many civilians and innocent people were killed by those airstrikes with these very high precision missiles?  They killed more civilians than terrorists.  So, the issue is not these so-called barrel bombs and this evil president killing the good people who are fighting for freedom.  This romantic image is not the case.  It is about how you use your armaments, rather than the difference between so called barrel bombs and high precision missiles.  It is about how you use these weapons, what kind of information you have and your intention.  Do we have the will to kill innocent people?  How is that possible when the state is defending them?  By doing so, we are pushing them towards the terrorists.  If we want to kill people, for any reason, innocent people or civilians, that will play directly into the hands of the terrorists.  And this is against our interests.  Are we going to shoot ourselves in the foot? That is not realistic and not logical.  This propaganda cannot be sold anymore.

Question 36: Mr President, the final question. As president of the country, and you always lead the military and everything. Do you, even if by default, not bear responsibility for some of the things that happened in Syria?

President Assad: I’ve been asked this question many times especially by western media and journalists.  The aim of the question is to corner me between two answers: if I were to say I was responsible, they would say look the President bears responsibility for everything that happened, if I were to say I am not responsible, they would say this is not true, you are the president, how can you not be responsible.

Question 37:  Because you are the head, like in a family …

President Assad:  Let me continue, that was only an introduction to my answer.  It is very simple.  Since the very beginning, we built our policy around two pillars, engaging in dialogue with everyone, and fighting terrorism everywhere in Syria.  Now, if you want to talk about the responsibility, you have to discuss many aspects of the conflict, and the reason why we are here today in this difficult and dire situation in Syria.  If I am to claim responsibility, do I also claim responsibility for asking the Qataris to pay the terrorists money?  Or for the Saudis to fund their activities?  Or for western governments allowing their terrorists to come to Syria?  Do I claim responsibility for asking western governments to offer a political umbrella to those terrorists and label them as moderates?  Or for the western embargos on the Syrian people?  This is how we have to discuss it.  We cannot simply say, that he takes responsibility or not.  We have to talk about every part; we have to differentiate between the policy decisions and the practices, between the strategy and the tactics.  So, it is very complicated to evaluate it.  Additionally, if you want to evaluate who bears responsibility in Syria, it could happen at the end of the war, when you can investigate the whole story before, during and after.

Interviewer:  Mr President, thank you very much.