A Bosnian signs off weapons he says are going to Saudi Arabia – but how did his signature turn up in Aleppo? - by Robert Fisk

20 July 2018

Exclusive: The documents, some lying amid smashed guns and shrapnel, provided the most intriguing paper trail yet discovered of just who is producing the weapons that have armed the Assad regime’s most ferocious Islamist opponents

Robert Fisk Novi Travnik, central Bosnia

Ifet Krnjic had recently retired from his position at the arms factory ( Nelofer Pazira )

In the basement of a bombed-out al-Qaeda arms storage building in eastern Aleppo last year, I found a weapons log book from a mortar factory in Bosnia – with the handwritten name of one of their senior officials, Ifet Krnjic, on each page. It was dispatched from the Balkans with a cargo of 500 120mm mortars in January 2016. But now, in the forested heart of central Bosnia, I have found Mr Krnjic, who says his company sent the arms to Saudi Arabia.

Sitting on the lawn of his home south of the weapons-manufacturing town of Novi Travnik, he brings his finger down onto the first page of the log book which I showed him. “This is my signature! Yes, that’s me!” Krnjic exclaims loudly. “It’s a warranty for the 120mm mortar launcher – this is Nato standard. It [the shipment] went to Saudi Arabia. It was part of a supply of 500 mortars. I remember the Saudi shipment well. They [the Saudis] came to our factory to inspect the weapons at the beginning of 2016.”

This is astonishing. Not only does Krnjic, the 64-year old newly retired weapons control director of the BNT-TMiH factory at Novi Travnik, acknowledge his signature – but he says he recalls the visits of Saudi officials and military personnel to inspect the mortars before their shipment to Riyadh, and insists all such sales were strictly in accordance with the legal end-user certificates which his company obtained from all customers, stating that the weapons were to be used only by the armed forces of the nations which purchased them.

A weapons guarantee paper signed by Krnjic in February 2016, found in the basement of a ‘Nusrah’ office in eastern Aleppo (The Independent)

Five-hundred mortars is a massive shipment of weapons – most European armies don’t have that many in their individual inventories – and some of them at least appear to have ended up in the hands of Bashar al-Assad’s Islamist Nusrah Front/al-Qaeda enemies in northern Syria within six months of their dispatch from Bosnia 1,200 miles away. Because the mortars left Bosnia on 15 January 2016 under a BNT-TMiH factory guarantee for 24 months – numbered 779 and with a weapons series number of 3677 – the documents now in The Independent’s possession must have reached Aleppo by late July of 2016, when Syrian government troops totally surrounded the enclave held by armed factions including Nusrah, Isis and other Islamist groups condemned as “terrorists” by the United States.

When The Independent asked the Saudi authorities to respond to the documents in its possession and their discovery in eastern Aleppo, the Saudi embassy in London replied that the Kingdom did not give “practical or other support to any terrorist organisation [including Nusrah and Isis] in Syria or any other country” and described the allegations raised by The Independentas “vague and unfounded”. It said Saudi Arabia had been a “leading voice within the international community in support of a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria, while at the same time working with our neighbours and allies to counter the growth of forces of extremism”. It made no comment on the weapon log book and arms control coupons, photographs of which The Independent had asked it to examine.

However, it is clear that Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahabi faith has inspired Nusrah, Isis and other violent Islamist groups in Syria. Saudi Arabia has often been accused of arming the rebels in Syria, and religious publications from Riyadh have been found in towns formerly held by the Islamist groups. Besides, Saudi Arabia has demanded the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad and his government in Damascus.

Ifet Krnjic, former weapons control director at the Novi Travnik arms factory in Bosnia, whose signature was found on weapons shipment papers (Nelofer Pazira)

In the last stages of the 2016 siege of Aleppo, Syrian and Russian forces were condemned in the west for the daily bombing of civilian areas of eastern Aleppo, and video footage provided constant images of dead and wounded men, women and children. During this period, however, the city’s Islamist defenders – most of whom later departed under a promise of safe passage for jihadi-held areas of Idlib province – fired barrages of mortar shells at government-held western Aleppo.

In the weeks that followed the mid-December surrender of the fighters in eastern Aleppo, the square miles of wreckage remained sown with mines and booby-traps. There were whole districts still cordoned off when I entered three former military barracks of the Islamist groups in February 2017, rubble sometimes blocking my path; stones, bricks, sheet metal and bomb fragments strewn across the roads and inside still standing, though badly damaged, buildings. Inside one of these, lying half-concealed amid iron fragments and field dressings, I found piles of discarded documents containing firing instructions for machine guns and mortars, all of them in English.

They also included weapons shipment papers and arms instruction booklets from Bosnia and Serbia, the pages still damp from winter rains and some stained by footprints. I stuffed as many as I could in the satchel I always carry in wars, later finding – in another building – a Bulgarian weapons shipment paper for artillery shells. In a deep basement of a third building in the Ansari district, with the words Jaish al-Mujaheddin (Army of the Holy Fighters) crudely painted but still visible on the front, its upper floors clearly bombed by Syrian or Russian jets, lay dozens of empty boxes for anti-armour weapons, all marked with their maker’s name – the Hughes Aircraft Company, of California. The boxes were labelled “Guided Missile Surface Attack” with stock numbers starting with the computer code “1410-01-300-0254”.

These papers, some of them lying amid smashed guns and pieces of shrapnel, provide the most intriguing paper trail yet discovered of just who is producing the weapons that have armed the Assad regime’s most ferocious Islamist opponents – and how they apparently reach the fighters of Syria via countries ‘friendly’ to the west. While claiming that he would have to “search” for documents on the end-user of the 2016 mortar shipment, Adis Ikanovic, the managing director of the Novi Travnik factory, acknowledged to me in his head office that most of his company’s exports went to “Saudi Arabia, probably”. An email reminder to Ikanovic six days after our meeting, for copies of the 2016 end-user certificate papers for the mortar shipment, elicited no reply.
Adis Ikanovic, managing director of the BNT-TMiH arms factory in Bosnia. Most of his arms exports, he said, went to Saudi Arabia (Nelofer Pazira)

Milojko Brzakovic, managing director of the Zastava arms factory in Serbia, looks through the arms manuals I found in Aleppo – including a 20-page instruction document for the powerful Coyote MO2 machine gun which his company manufactures – and says “there is not a single country in the Middle East which did not buy weapons from Zastava in the past 15 years”. He agrees that the documents I presented to him, which included a 52-page manual for his company’s 7.62mm M84 machine gun, which I also found in the Aleppo ruins beneath a bombed apartment bloc which had ‘Nusrah’ painted in Arabic on its wall, were published by Zastava in Serbia, and that Saudi Arabia and the Emirates were among his customers.
Milojko Brzakovic, managing director of the Zastava arms factory at Kragujovac in Serbia, admitted Saudi Arabia was a customer (Nelofer Pazira)

Ifet Krnjic’s account of the mortar shipment from BNT-TMiH in Bosnia is both precise and detailed. “When the Saudis came to our factory to inspect at the beginning of 2016, there was a Saudi ‘minister’... and some Saudi officers who also came to inspect the weapons before receiving them. The officers wore civilian clothes. The minister was in a robe. All our production after the [Bosnian] war is under the control of the Americans and Nato who are always coming here… and they know each and every piece of our weapons which go outside our factory.”
Krnjic, who lives in the tiny village of Potok Krnjic, Bosnian hamlets sometimes carry the names of extended families, south of Novi Travnik, describes how he recognised Nato officers visiting the plant, one of them “a Canadian officer, a black guy whose name is Stephen”. Ikanovic, the BNT-TMiH boss, confirms that all weapons shipments, including those to Saudi Arabia, were checked by the European Union Force Althea (EUFOR), the successor to Nato’s SFOR, and set up under the 1995 Dayton accords which ended the Bosnian war. Ikanovic says an Austrian general visits his factory for inspections, identified to me by other employees as Austrian two star Major General Martin Dorfer, the EUFOR commander. Krnjic says weapons from the plant are exported by Tuzla airport or through Sarajevo.

The Saudis, Krnjic tells me, “were never complaining because we have had a very good reputation for a long time, not only for our weapons but for who can give the shortest delivery date… I know I should not say all of this, but Nato and the EU have given us the green light to do this. Ours is the only mortar that can shoot from asphalt. Each mortar has a base plate, but other base plates [from other countries’ mortars] break – they can only be used on soft ground. With ours, the mortars can also be carried in sacks – they are three shells, one barrel, you shoot at a building and then you disappear. Only Chinese mortars are better than ours – I saw them in Iraq.”

Documents found in bombed Nusrah militia basements in eastern Aleppo


It transpires that although Krnjic has never visited Syria, he was employed in a weapons factory built by BNT-TMiH in Iraq in 1986, during the eight year Iran-Iraq war. “I was working inside the factory in Iraq – I wasn’t waging a war there” he says. “The factory there was more modern than ours [in Novi Travnik] – we were in Fallujah and Ramadi. By that time, we were already doing rocket launchers for Saddam, 260mm with a range of 500km. I saw Saddam three times.”

But Novi Travnik’s fortunes declined when the Bosnian war began in 1992, its once 10,000-strong workforce today reduced to fewer than 900. Much of the factory compound is now overgrown with rusted steel walls around some of its machine shops. Krnjic, a member of Bosnia’s Social Democratic Party and a veteran of the country’s civil war, retired from the company some months before Ikanovic was appointed managing director.

“I cannot export anything without a licence with the approval of five different ministers here in Bosnia, and it [the contract] is overlooked by Nato,” Ikanovic said. “We can only sell to countries which are on Nato’s ‘white list’.” Like Krnjic, and Brzakovic in Serbia, he says that his arms company must receive an internationally recognised end-user certificate for any arms export – but agrees that exporters had neither an obligation nor any way of preventing the further shipment of its weapons to third parties once they had arrived at their initial destination.

* This article has been updated to take account of a response from the Saudi embassy in London, received after a deadline for its receipt had passed and after the piece was initially published. 17.15 19/7/18

Initial Thoughts on the OPCW Interim Investigation into the Alleged Gas Attack in Douma, Syria

By Peter Hitchens - 7 July 2018

Now we have the first interim report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on the alleged gas attack at Douma, outside Damascus, on 7th April 2018. You may read it in full here

I’d like to check its conclusions against some of the things which were said at the time, when the NATO allies very quickly concluded that the, allegations (for which there was no independent evidence) were true, and that the Assad state was to blame.

Here is the Guardian, on 9th April 2018: ‘Aid workers and medics described apocalyptic scenes in the besieged city of Douma, where at least 42 people have died from what appears to be a chemical attack, as they scrambled to save the survivors of the latest atrocity in Syria.

The Guardian - 9 April 2018

‘Doctors, nurses and rescue personnel said that, without medical equipment or supplies, they battled to save people who had started arriving at hospitals from 7.45pm on Saturday and were frothing at the mouth and suffocating. Many of those who made it to the hospitals did not live long. People who could not be pulled out needed to stay in their homes for hours waiting for the gas to dissipate before they could be retrieved. Some rescue workers also required treatment for exposure to the alleged chemicals.

‘Doctors said the symptoms had been consistent with exposure to an organophosphorus substance.’

Which doctors? Note the absence of named, checkable sources in a story written some distance from Damascus. This was typical of almost all western media reports of the episode at the time.

Now, the OPCW preliminary report, 6th July 2018, paragraph 2.5, specifically says there is no evidence of any such organophosphorus substance at the site. The quoted ‘doctors’, being unidentified, cannot now be approached to ask for their response to this.

The OPCW says : ‘The results of the analysis of the prioritised samples submitted to OPCW designated laboratories were received by the FFM team on 22 May 2018. No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties. Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from Locations 2 and 4, along with residues of explosive. These results are reported in Annex 3. Work by the team to establish the significance of these results is ongoing.’

The Times , 9th April 2018, declared in a leading article:

‘It was business as usual yesterday in the propaganda bunkers of President Assad. A horrific chemical weapons attack on the sheltering Syrian civilians of Douma township was brushed aside by the Damascus regime as a fabrication or a "false flag" operation by insurgents. Moscow rushed to support its client dictator, branding the assault "bogus".

‘At least 70 people, including women and children, were killed after a Syrian army helicopter rolled a barrel bomb stuffed with chlorine or a nerve agent on to a heavily populated neighbourhood at the weekend. Douma is the only city in the eastern Ghouta enclave that is still in rebel hands and the Assad regime had plainly become impatient to mop up resistance. The relentless airstrikes since February indicate that the regime is willing to breach international rules to conquer terrain it considers strategically vital.

‘Russia cannot be allowed to block investigations into yet another breach of the chemical weapons convention. In 2013, when the US readied itself for a strike on Assad's bases to punish the regime for a chemical assault on eastern Ghouta, Russia offered to help to destroy Syria's stockpiles of gas and nerve agents. Moscow's aim was to head off US military involvement rather than restrain Assad. Again and again, new attacks have been documented by non-governmental organisations. It is obvious that the regime retains at least part of its chemical arsenal and manufacturing facilities.

‘The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) should be authorised to send investigators to the scene. The UN Security Council should demand the surrender of all flight logs for the period of the attack. These are the basic requirements for establishing that a war crime has been committed. Yet the past behaviour of the Russian authorities, and their reflex response of denying everything, suggests that little progress will be made at the UN.’

What reason did ‘The Times’ (which above imputes cynical motives to Russia without evidence) have to suspect that Russia would block an OPCW investigation? Russia has not in fact blocked any investigation, though it has objected to the creation of a body, which it regarded as biased, which drew conclusions from the Khan Sheikhoun events without having actually visited the site or seen any independent evidence gathered there, since there wasn’t any.


For the full story of Khan Sheikhoun.

The OPCW report shows that the Syrian and Russian governments both supported the mission of the OPCW to the site. By contrast the OPCW was unable to visit the scene of a previous alleged chemical attack at Khan Sheikhoun, in an area controlled by the Islamist factions supported by the West, as their safety could not be guaranteed. I do not recall ‘The Times’ condemning the rrbels over this.

Paragraph 3.3 : ‘On 10 April 2018, the Secretariat sent note verbale No. NV/ODG/214589/18 to the Syrian Arab Republic expressing its intention to deploy a team to Damascus. This correspondence coincided with note verbale No. 38 from the Permanent Representation of the Syrian Arab Republic to the OPCW requesting that an FFM team be dispatched urgently to visit the town of Douma to verify the information surrounding the alleged use of toxic chemicals on 7 April 2018. On the same day, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OPCW submitted a letter to the Secretariat in which he welcomed the request from the Syrian Arab Republic and pledged to facilitate the work of the FFM.’

It also shows that delays to the OPCW team’s arrival were not caused by Russian or Syrian government action:

Paragraphs 6.1 to 6.8 (my emphases) explain wat happened:

‘Given the recent military activities and the volatile situation in Douma at the time of the FFM deployment, security and safety considerations were of paramount importance. Considerable time and effort were invested in discussions and planning to mitigate the inherent security risks to the FFM team and others deploying into Douma. According to Syrian Arab Republic and Russian Military Police representatives, there were a number of unacceptable risks to the team, including mines and explosives that still needed to be cleared, a risk of explosions, and sleeper cells still suspected of being active in Douma. This assessment was shared by the representative of the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS). Moreover, the operation to evacuate residents who had accepted an offer to leave Douma was ongoing, using the same road the team would have to take.

6.2 At the outset, the formal position of the FFM team, as instructed by the Director-General, was that security of the mission should be the responsibility of the Syrian Arab Republic. During the initial meetings in Damascus, the FFM team was informed by Syrian and Russian representatives that the Syrian Arab Republic could guarantee the safety of the FFM team only if the security was provided jointly with the Russian Military Police. S/1645/2018 page 6 6.3 Following consultations with OPCW Headquarters it was agreed between the Secretariat, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Russian Military Police, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), and UNDSS representatives that security within Douma could be provided by the Russian Military Police. This was formalised on 16 April 2018. Consequently, it was agreed that the Syrian Arab Republic would provide security from the hotel where the inspectors were staying to the final checkpoint at El Wafadin before entering Douma. From that point on, the Syrian Arab Republic would relinquish responsibility for security to the Russian Military Police. It was also agreed that the FFM team would be accompanied by Syrian Arab Republic representatives during the on-site activities, with Russian personnel limited to providing security.

6.4 During the reconnaissance visit by UNDSS on 18 April 2018 to assess the first two locations planned to be visited the following day, the security detail was confronted by a hostile crowd and came under fire from small arms and a hand grenade that exploded at Location 2 (see Figure 2 in section 8 below). The incident reportedly resulted in two fatalities and an injury to a Russian soldier. (PH Notes: This seems to me to suggest that the crowd were hostile to the Syrian government and the Russians, not to the defeated Jaish al Islam rebels. But I am speculating here)

6.5 Following the incident, the planned deployment of the FFM team was postponed until the security situation could be reassessed. Additional measures to mitigate the high security risks were proposed by the UNDSS representative, which included: (a) clearing the areas to be visited by the FFM team; (b) securing the areas during the 24-hour period before deployment; (c) increasing the number of escorts and having advance teams from the UNDSS and the Russian Military Police monitor the area prior to the arrival of the team at the sites; (d) using the police force for crowd control; (e) minimising the movement of civilians near the areas of interest given the possibility of suicide bombers getting within close proximity of the inspection team; and (f) deploying snipers on rooftops around the sites of interest. 6.6 New routes of access to the locations of interest were identified and modifications to the initial FFM deployment plans were formulated. These included reducing the size of the FFM teams deploying to the field to facilitate better security control and limiting the number of sites to be visited during each deployment. All parties agreed that media reports and public pronouncements on operational aspects of the FFM were compounding the security risk for the team and efforts were made to mitigate this risk element. 6.7 Once the security reassessment had been concluded and the proposed additional mitigation measures implemented, the FFM team deployed to the sites of investigation in accordance with the updated priorities and proposed schedule. S/1645/2018 page 7 6.8 For the remainder of the mission, the deployment by the FFM team proceeded without any security incidents. Access was granted to locations identified by the team as soon as adequate security conditions could be assured by the Syrian Arab Republic, the Russian Military Police, and the UNDSS. The Russian Military Police ensured that the team was fully isolated from local crowds and media personnel during the on-site visits, thereby allowing it to conduct its activities without interference.’

The Times stated in its 9th April leading article, as fact, that ‘At least 70 people, including women and children, were killed after a Syrian army helicopter rolled a barrel bomb stuffed with chlorine or a nerve agent on to a heavily populated neighbourhood at the weekend.’

The interim report says nothing about casualties. The reports we have of these come, like so much of what we think we know, from un-named sources, presumably so-called ‘NGOs’, not necessarily neutral in this matter, operating in the areas controlled by the Islamists.

We have so far no names of the dead, and no post-mortems to show cause of death (though the OPCW report reveals that there have been discussions about opening mass graves). So it is not yet possible to say whether these allegations are well-founded. The OPCW seems to have dismissed the suggestion that a nerve agent was involved. But the Times was cautious about this, saying it might have been chlorine.

So, was chlorine used? This issue is dealt with in paragraphs 8.7 to 8.14

‘Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from Locations 2 and 4, along with residues of explosive. These results are reported in Annex 3. Work by the team to establish the significance of these results is ongoing. Physical data collection

8.8 Aside from sampling, a large volume of information was gathered by the FFM team and included photographs, video recordings, detection measurements, dimensions of the cylinders and attached metallic structure, and the spatial arrangement in the environment of the cylinders. Location 2 (cylinder on the roof)

8.9 The team deployed to Location 2 (N 330 34’ 25.6”, E 360 24’ 17.3”) on 21 April 2018.

8.10 During the visit to Location 2, Syrian Arab Republic representatives did not provide the access requested by the FFM team to some apartments within the building, which were closed at the time. The Syrian Arab Republic representatives stated that they did not have the authority to force entry into the locked apartments. This situation was relayed to OPCW Headquarters during the post-deployment debrief that same evening. S/1645/2018 page 11

8.11 The FFM had full access to other areas of interest within the same building, namely the balcony where the cylinder had allegedly impacted, the apartment directly below this, and the basement of the same apartment block.

8.12 Work is in progress regarding the location of the cylinder, its provenance, and the damage to both the reinforced concrete balcony and the cylinder. A comprehensive analysis by experts in the relevant fields will be required to provide a competent assessment of the relative damage. Location 4 (cylinder on the bed)

8.13 The team deployed to Location 4 (N 33° 34’ 24”, E 36° 23’ 41.1”) on 25 April 2018. The team gathered a broad selection of sample types, took videos, photos, detection measurements, and relevant dimensions of the location and the cylinder.

8.14 Work is in progress regarding the location of the cylinder, its provenance, and the damage to the reinforced concrete roof terrace and the cylinder. It is planned that a comprehensive analysis will be conducted by suitable experts, possibly in metallurgy and structural or mechanical engineering, to provide an assessment of how the cylinders arrived at its location, in addition to the observed damage to the bed and other furniture of the room, the roof, and the cylinder itself.

The report is not definitive. It seems to me that quite careful investigations are still taking place into how the cylinders got there. I don’t expect this is very easy to establish. The assertion that they were dropped form a helicopter by the Syrian army, widely made at the time, remains unproven. As to the chlorine traces, I’d be interested to hear from a chemist about these. They are listed in Annex 3, which is, alas, printed sideways.

Shortly after this event I had a few broadcasting engagements in which I urged caution, and was pretty much told not to be so silly, amongst other unpleasant suggestions.

This, from the once-staid and cautious Daily Telegraph, gives an idea of the quality and speed of the rush to judgement, in media and government

Trump's warning to Putin over Syrian gas atrocity

'Gravest consequences' for intervention, says Moscow
By: Ben Riley-Smith, Josie Ensor, Steven Swinford

DONALD TRUMP last night warned Russia's Vladimir Putin that there would be a "big price to pay" for a suspected Syrian chemical weapons attack that killed up to 70 people, including children.

In his harshest criticism of the Russian leader since taking office, the US president said Mr Putin was partly "responsible" for the assault on rebels in Douma, Eastern Ghouta.

He also criticised Barack Obama's failure to police a "red line" over chemical weapons, while a senior White House official said no form of response was "off the table".

The comments raise the possibility of a US air strike against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. Mr Trump approved the same response a year ago after a similar chemical attack.

The UN security council is expected to meet today after the UK, France, the US and six other countries called for an emergency session.

Theresa May was under pressure to join any US military intervention against the Assad regime, although MPs are not expected to be recalled to Parliament to discuss policy change.

Russia, Iran and Syria all denied chemical weapons had been used, with the Kremlin warning that any military response from the West would be "absolutely unacceptable".

A residential area of Douma, one of the last remaining rebel-held pockets in Syria, was struck around 8.45pm on Saturday.

Footage showed the dead bodies of children and adults with foaming mouths and glazed eyes.

Mr Trump tweeted: "Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world.

"President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.

"Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!" The president highlighted Mr Obama's failure to launch air strikes after past chemical weapons use, tweeting: "If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!" US media reported that Mr Trump would meet military leaders today, while Republican congressmen demanded action should follow up his uncompromising rhetoric.’

Well, we know that soon afterwards what seems to me to have been an illegal armed attack on Syria was made by the USA, Britain and France. Was this justified? We are some of the way towards knowing, but I still do not know what would have been lost by waiting to know, instead of assuming we knew.


#Syria | Sy Hersh: The truth of 2013 Eastern Ghouta chemical attack

30 June 2018

"Obama administration knew well that the sarin used in the 2013 Ghouta attack didn't have the grade and the characteristics of the one that Syrian military had at the time, and the administration also knew well that Saudi Arabia and Turkey were providing chemicals to Al Nusra in Syria that, when mixed together, make a nerve agent referred to as "kitchen sarin."

"The Obama Administration knew from this very important intelligence report...that there were two suspects – Al Nusra had the stuff and Syria had the stuff. Forget about having it analyzed – they knew right away (that it wasn't the Syrian Government's) and -still- they only talked about one (the Syrian Government's)," Hersh said.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist also spoke to RT about the anti-Syrian gov. propaganda organization, the White Helmets, and the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, UK. - (Extract from RT's Going Underground - 30 June 2018)

You can watch the full episode here ↓↓↓

Also see |


Related: Sarin materials brought via Turkey & mixed in Syrian ISIS camps – Turkish MP to RT

Sarin materials brought via Turkey & mixed in Syrian ISIS camps – Turkish MP to RT

Islamic State terrorists in Syria received all necessary materials to produce deadly sarin gas via Turkey, Turkish MP Eren Erdem has told RT, insisting there are grounds to believe a cover up has taken place.

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) member, Erdem, brought up the issue for public discussion in parliament last week, citing evidence from an abruptly-closed criminal case. He accused Ankara of failing to investigate Turkish supply routes used to provide terrorists with toxic sarin gas ingredients.

“There is data in this indictment. Chemical weapon materials are being brought to Turkey and being put together in Syria in camps of ISIS which was known as Iraqi Al Qaeda during that time," Erdem told RT.

Sarin gas is a military-grade chemical that was used in a notorious attack on Ghouta and several other neighborhoods near the Syrian capital of Damascus in 2013. The attacks were pinned on the Syrian leadership, who in turn agreed to get rid of all chemical weapons stockpiles under a UN-brokered deal amid an imminent threat of US intervention.

Addressing parliamentarians on Thursday, Erdem showed a copy of the criminal case number 2013/120 that was opened by the General Prosecutor's Office in the city of Adana in southern Turkey.

The investigation revealed that a number of Turkish citizens took part in negotiations with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) representatives on the supply of sarin gas. Pointing to evidence cited in the criminal case, he said that wiretapped phone conversations proved that an Al-Qaeda militant, Hayyam Kasap, acquired sarin.

“These are all detected. There are phone recordings of this shipment like ‘don't worry about the border, we’ll take care of it' and we also see the bureaucracy is being used,” continued Erdem.

Based on the gathered evidence Adana authorities conducted raids and arrested 13 suspects in the case. But a week later, inexplicably, the case was closed and all the suspects immediately crossed the Turkish-Syrian border, Erdem said.

READ MORE: Turkish prosecutors indict Syrian rebels for seeking chemical weapons

“About the shipment, Republic prosecutor of Adana, Mehmet Arıkan, made an operation and the related people were detained. But as far as I understand he was not an influential person in bureaucracy. A week after, another public prosecutor was assigned, took over the indictment and all the detainees were released. And they left Turkey crossing the Syrian border,” he said.

“The phone recordings in the indictment showed all the details from how the shipment was going to be made to how it was prepared, from the content of the labs to the source of the materials. Which trucks were going to be used, all dates etc. From A to Z, everything was discussed and recorded. Despite all of this evidence, the suspects were released,” he said.

READ MORE: ‘Abandoned’ barrels containing deadly sarin seized in rebel-held Syria

“And the shipment happened,” Erdem added. “Because no one stopped them. That’s why maybe the sarin gas used in Syria is a result of this.”

Speaking to RT, Erdem said that according to some evidence Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation was also involved, with some unconfirmed reports pointing in the direction of a government cover up, with Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag’s involvement.

Certain evidence suggests Bozdag wanted to know beforehand from the sarin gas producer when and if the Islamists will use the chemical weapon.

“When I read the indictment, I saw clearly that these people have relationships with The Machinery and Chemical Industry Institution of Turkey and they don’t have any worries about crossing the border. For example in Hayyam Kasap's phone records, you hear him saying sarin gas many times, saying that the ateliers are ready for production, materials are waiting in trucks which were supposedly carrying club soda,” he told RT.

The parliamentarian said that now he feels like there is a witch hunt against him, after he confronted the justice minister. Bozdag, according to Erdem denied only the part that he wanted to get notified about the operations beforehand.

Furthermore, Erdem argues that the West purposely blamed the regime of Bashar Assad for the August 2013 attacks and used it as part of the pretext to make US military intervention in Syria possible. The MP said that evidence in Adana’s case, according to his judgment, proves that IS was responsible.

“For example the chemical attack in Ghouta. Remember. It was claimed that the regime forces were behind it. This attack was conducted just days before the sarin operation in Turkey. It’s a high probability that this attack was carried out with those basic materials shipped through Turkey. It is said the regime forces are responsible but the indictment says it’s ISIS. UN inspectors went to the site but they couldn’t find any evidence. But in this indictment, we’ve found the evidence. We know who used the sarin gas, and our government knows it too,” he said.

At the same time, Erdem also accused the West and Europe in particular for providing “basic materials” to create such a powerful chemical weapon.

“All basic materials are purchased from Europe. Western institutions should question themselves about these relations. Western sources know very well who carried out the sarin gas attack in Syria. They know these people, they know who these people are working with, they know that these people are working for Al-Qaeda. I think is Westerns are hypocrats about the situation,” he concluded.




Syria | Full text of President al-#Assad’s interview given to Russia's NTV.

25 June 2018

- The war in Syria is not a civil war but an international one from the start.
- Russia’s military and political presence in Syria and the Middle East is highly important to preserve international equilibrium and fight terrorism.
- Syria has no chemical weapons since 2013, the West invokes the chemical narrative only when its terrorist agents in Syria are defeated, as a pretext for a direct military intervention against the Syrian army.
- Any constitutional reform in Syria should be done by a national referendum which is a wholly Syrian matter, which is in no way related to the will of the United Nations or foreign countries.

Below is the full text of President al-Assad’s interview:

Question 1: Mr. President, now we can make the summary of some situations, because the ISIS is almost defeated, Damascus is almost safe and it’s under control of governmental forces, and so far, you have some operation in the south and in the east. Could you tell me now, as a President by career, and as a doctor by education, what was it… how you could miss the first symptoms of this war, first symptoms of this invasion to your country, because you call it invasion. What was it?

President Assad: We have to differentiate between the internal symptoms and the external. The internal symptoms, we have problems like any other society in our region, we are part of this region, and we always discuss these problems. Maybe we were short of solving the problem that we could have solved before the war, maybe not; this is subjective to every Syrian, could say from his different point of view. While if you want to talk about the external factor, which is very important in creating this war, because no other country in this region has a similar war, although we have the same societies and you have worse problems, like in the Gulf states, where you have no freedom at all, either to women or to people, to anything.

So, if that’s the reason, for example – because that was the slogan at the very beginning – why didn’t it start in those countries? So, actually what happened wasn’t internal, because the same problems have been there for decades now, some of them for centuries. So, actually this is where the external factor, that it wasn’t clear, because we didn’t see it, actually because the plan hasn’t been made in Syria; it was made in some Western countries like US, France, and UK mainly. Some other satellite states like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, they were planning and they were sending money at the very beginning, after they failed in creating, let’s say, a spontaneous revolution, this is where they started sending money, and this is where the problem started. That was clear for us from the very beginning, but maybe we couldn’t control it.

Question 2: But why didn’t you see – for example, when I came to Eastern Ghouta months ago, I’ve seen the tunnels everywhere, which were constructed by the engineers, by huge machines, by bulldozers – how you could miss it? Do you have an explanation now, how they managed to do these underground cities?

President Assad: Of course, they could have used the tools that they already had in that area, whether stolen from the government, from private companies, and so on, and they had support coming from Jordan through the desert directly to al-Ghouta, where the desert is empty, and no-one can control it or observe it, and we don’t have, of course, the means like satellites and so on to see all this. At the same time, when they started digging, they started digging under the cities, something you cannot see…

Journalist: Even the security forces, they didn’t see it?
President Assad: They didn’t see it, because we don’t have direct visual line to see it. But we had information from inside, that they had tunnels, but that was later, when those tunnels became fully operational, but before that it was difficult for us to see it.

Question 3: When I came to Eastern Ghouta, I met people who could prove by themselves that they’ve seen how al-Nusra shot the chemical weapons to their areas. I’ve seen all these chemical suits in rooms where were the headquarters of al-Nusra, and so on. But, the West tells that you poisoned your own people with chemical weapons. Why is that, why nobody is listening to the people, and why the West is so insistent in that?

President Assad: Because the chemical narrative is part of their main narrative against the government in Syria, but they use it only when their troops, their proxies the terrorists, have been defeated in Syria in certain areas. They use this story or this narrative in order to have a pretext to intervene directly, militarily, and to attack the Syrian Army. That’s what happened many times, and every time they use this story, it’s only when their proxies the terrorists have been defeated. It should be – I mean, logically, let alone the reality that we don’t have any chemical weapons anyway, we gave them up…

Journalist: You don’t have at all?

President Assad: We don’t have, no. Since 2013, we don’t have. But put this aside, even if you have it, you should be using these weapons at least if you are being defeated, not when you win the war. And actually, every time we are winning, they use it, so this is against logic, but this is used as pretext in order to support the terrorists in Syria.

Question 4: Is there any way to prevent all these provocations, because the Russian Ministry of Defense tells that one of these provocations is to be prepared in Deir Ezzor, and they told it recently. How to stop this?

President Assad: You cannot, because this is not a result of our reality; this is the result of their imagination, of their media, this is something created in their own media and their own countries, and then spread all over the world on the Internet or in different media outlets. So, you cannot prevent the provocation. The Americans only tell lies, and they attack right away. When you don’t have international law to be respected, when you don’t have effective United Nations institutions, you cannot talk about preventing provocations, because this is a jungle now, all over the world.

Question 5: You are winning, you control most parts of the country already, but so many players are in Syria, so many parts, they have interests. America is making negotiations with Turkey about Manbij, Israel is making negotiations somewhere, the Iranians make negotiations, the Kurds they have their own interests. How to solve it all, how to keep Syria united? Because nowadays it seems like Syria is torn apart. How to stop this? Because you told your main logo is like “one Syria for one nation.”

President Assad: If you want to talk about Syria being torn about, this is about, let’s say, the geography, not about the society; the society is unified, so we don’t have a problem regarding this. So, we can look at Syria as unified as long as the people are unified. Being torn apart, this is occupation; different parts of Syria being occupied by the terrorists with the support of the West, mainly the United States and their allies. So, if you want to talk about the future of Syria, we don’t take them into account. Talk about the political process, this is going to be an only-Syrian political process. We don’t take into account the interests of any other country regarding something which is internal. If you talk about the war, it’s becoming now an international war, because that’s how it started. Actually, it wasn’t only about the government in Syria; the government in Syria is independent, we have good relations with Russia, with China, and other countries, and the United States wanted to re-draw the map of the world politically, and maybe militarily, so Syria was one of the main battlefields to re-draw this map, at least in the Middle East. That’s why when you talk about those interests, this is a fight between these powers: the main power: the United States and their allies supporting the terrorists, and the goal is to have hegemony, and the other power is Russia with its allies, their aim is to fight the terrorism and to restore the international law.

Question 6: But why Syria was selected for this game?

President Assad: For many different reasons. Syria is part of the group of countries that are considered as independent: Syria, Iran, North Korea, and now Russia as an independent country. So, the West doesn’t accept any independent position. America doesn’t accept any European independent position. And that’s why you have a problem in Russia with the US, because you wanted to be independent, and they don’t accept you, even if you are a great power or not, you cannot be independent.

This is one reason. And we are a small country, how can we say no and yes? We have to say only yes. This is one reason.

Second, the geopolitics of Syria, the historic role of the Syrian society, although it is very small, but this is a fault line, social fault line between the different sects and ethnicities, and when you control this area, you could have control the rest of the Middle East. That’s why the struggle on Syria started during the age of the Pharaohs, and the first treaty in the world was 12 centuries before Christ, it was between the Pharaohs and the Hittites, coming from north and south, they fought on Syria, and they signed the first treaty in history. So, the geopolitics of Syria are very important, so controlling Syria was a goal to the great powers since that time till this moment. So, it doesn’t matter whether Syria is big or small, or bigger or smaller, it’s important.

Question 7: What do you expect from Russia in this case? Because you have so many players whom you told should all leave Syria, you told that the Syrian nation one day will ask everybody to leave this ground. What do you expect Russia in this case? Because we are allies, we are friends.

President Assad: Friendship is a long-term issue between Syria and Russia, for six decades, but we signed the military treaty for more than four decades. So, we have two expectations: the first one, Syria and Russia have an interest in fighting and defeating terrorism, in Syria, in Russia, anywhere in the world. So, this is the first expectation and goal.

The second one is the long-term one. Russia is very important for the global balance that we’ve lost since the collapse of the Soviet Union. So, having Russia being here militarily and politically, in Syria and in the Middle East and in the rest of the world is very important for the balance. It’s not only important for Russia itself and for the other great powers; it’s very important for smaller countries like Syria to have this balance. So, that’s what we expect from Russia on both levels: fighting terrorism and having global balance.

Question 8: I’ve been to Eastern Ghouta and I’ve seen how strongly it’s destroyed, how hard it’s destroyed, and as far as I know, you need 400 billion Dollars to rebuild the country, but the West tells that they will not give a dime while you are in power. What can you do in this situation, because you have to rebuild the whole country?

President Assad: Frankly, this is the best Western statement during the war, that they won’t be part of reconstruction in Syria, because very simply we won’t allow them to be part of it, whether they come with money or not, whether they came with a loan, or with a donation, with a grant, whatever; we don’t need the West. The West is not honest at all, they don’t give, they only take. First of all, we didn’t build Syria through history by foreign money; we built it with our money, with our human resources. We still – in spite of the war – we still have the human resources to rebuild every sector in our country. We’re not worried about that.

Regarding the money, before the war we didn’t have any debt, because we built our country with some loans from our friends. So, we don’t have money. You can have loans from your friends, you can have money from Syrians living abroad, Syrians living inside, and the money of the government. So, we’re not worried about that. It may take a longer time, but we’re not worried at all about rebuilding Syria. Don’t forget that reconstruction after the war, when you talk about 400 billion, less or more – this is approximate – is a whole economy, it’s a whole market, it’s a whole investment. So, the Europeans talking about coming for reconstruction, they’re not coming to help Syria; they’re coming to get money. And many European companies now are making contacts with us to open the door for them to come and invest in Syria.

Journalist: This is in private?

President Assad: In private, of course. But of course, with the support of their governments. So, they need this market, they are in a very dire situation economically since 2008, most of the European countries. They need many markets, Syria is one of them, and we are not going to allow them to be part of this market, very simply.

Question 9: When we’re talking about the restoration of the whole country, it means the restoration of trust and friendship between people, because we can see this partly as a civil war when the brother shoots the brother, because of the different religious or any other views. In this case, you start with constitutional committee. The opposition made their list for constitutional committee. Will you run for the next presidential term, or how to restore this political structure of your country?

President Assad: First of all, we don’t have a civil war, because civil war should be based on sectarian lines, ethnical lines, religious lines, and so on. We don’t have that in Syria. You can go everywhere, especially in the areas under the control of the government where you can see the full spectrum of the rich Syrian societies existing and people living together. Actually – and this is not exaggeration, this is fact – the war was a very important lesson. So, this diverse society is becoming much more unified than before the war, because we learned the lesson. While if you go to the areas under the control of the terrorists, they don’t represent one color of this society, actually they only reflect their incubator and the people who don’t have any other choice but to live in those areas, they don’t have any other choice. So, we don’t have to worry about the civil war. So, it’s not people shooting each other; these are mercenaries, these are terrorists. You have terrorists in your country, in Russia, and they are Russian, but they don’t represent part of the society, they represent their own ideology. So, the same situation in Syria. So, regarding the unification of the people, we don’t have a problem with that.

Regarding the presidency, it has two factors: the first one, my will, and my will be based on the second factor which is the will of the Syrian people. We still have three years’ time. At that time, in 2021, will the Syrian people be ready to accept that person, that president, or not? If no, what do I get with the presidency? I cannot do anything, I cannot succeed, I cannot give my country anything, so the answer will be no. If yes, in that time, I’m going to think about it, but it’s still early, we still have three years till that time.

Journalist: But what about all these constitutional reforms which were asked by the United Nations?

President Assad: We made reforms in 2012, and now we have the Sochi conference, they’re going to discuss it. Any constitutional reform, it’s not related to the president, it’s not related to the government; it’s related to the Syrian people, so there must be – if we’re going to go in any kind of amendment or change or whatever – it’s going to be through referendum, national referendum. If there’s a national referendum and the people will support a new constitution, of course we’re going to do it, but this is not related to the will of the United Nations or to the foreign countries, it’s not. This is going to be fully Syrian. If the Syrians don’t want any change, there will be no change whatsoever.

Question 10: One of the main players is the Unites States, and Trump made his meeting in Singapore with Kim. Recently, Iran told that we will never meet with Trump because Kim is not Muslim; he doesn’t understand what’s going on, we will never talk to Trump ever. Will you, if it will be necessary, meet Trump directly or indirectly? Do you think it’s necessary for you to talk to Trump?

President Assad: We believe that discussing or talking or negotiating with your adversary, and any other one of course, is productive, but in this case, since we have the first negotiation with the Unites States in 1974, we never achieved anything in any subject. The problem with the American presidents is that they are hostages to their lobbies, to the mainstream media, to the huge corporations, financial, oil, armaments, etc. So, they can tell you whatever you want to hear, but they will do the opposite, and this is the case, and it’s getting worse and worse, and Trump is a very stark example. So, talking and discussing with the Americans now for no reason, without achieving anything, is just a waste of time. We’re not happy to talk with the Americans just because they are Americans. We are ready to discuss with anyone who could be productive, and we don’t believe that the American politics will be different in the foreseeable future. So, it’s just, again, a waste of time now.

Question 11: Every time I’m thinking about Syria, I remember that you’re a doctor by career, that you lived in London for a long time, you’ve been integrated into that society, and now that society considers you as a, like, a symbol of evil on the earth, and everyone tells there – like in the newspapers and politicians – that you poison people with chemical weapons, you do all these awful stuff to your own citizens. How do you feel about this, or does it make any pressure for you emotionally, and to you and to your family? How you explain to them what’s going on?

President Assad: Actually, emotionally, we live with the disaster in Syria for seven years. So, when you have a bigger disaster, you won’t feel smaller pressure, you don’t. I mean every blood that’s been let on daily basis form a single Syrian person will create much much more emotion than their fake narrative. This is first. Second, when you know that they are lying, you don’t feel anything emotional. You could feel something when there’s credible criticizing based on facts and convincing stories, let’s say. This is where you can feel, let’s say, some pain or emotional pressure. The problem with the West is that they don’t have statesmen anymore. The substitute of statesmen and real politics is fake politics, and fake politics need fake stories, and chemical stories are part of these fake stories. Actually, the Western politics – I’m not talking about the people, only the politicians – they have no morals at all, they have no values at all. So, when you deal with people without values, without morals, they don’t incite anything in your heart, or in your brain, or in your mind.

Question 12: And the last question probably is that every time we come to Western Ghouta, we see the signs left by ISIS or al-Nusra: “we will return.” For us, it’s scary, because we spent a lot of money, we lost a lot of lives supporting Syria in her struggle with the “caliphate.” So, for us, it’s scary that one day it can return. What’s your estimation?

President Assad: First of all, this is ideology, this is a dark ideology that was promoted for the last five, nearly five decades – because it started in the late 60s, it’s not only in the 90s or after – around the world mainly by the Saudi Wahhabis, and of course with the support of the Unites States and the West in general. So, this is religious danger with political support, so it’s both. So, it’s not something spontaneous. They will return, of course, because they’re going to be used again and again by the Western powers, but maybe under different brands. Those powers were in Afghanistan thirty years ago and Reagan called them “holy fighters,” he didn’t call them terrorists. Now, they are called terrorists, but they are using those terrorists. Maybe ten years later, they’re going to be used somewhere in this world under a different brand; the same product but they are rebranding this product. So, it’s a Western tool. That’s why asking about feeling this danger is correct.

This is first. Second, you’re right to feel this worry, even in Russia, not because you lost lives in Syria; because you have the same terrorism in Russia. How I look at it? If those terrorists succeeded in Russia, I will be in danger; they’re going to come to Syria and to other countries, and vice versa. So, you’ve been defending the Syrians, but you’ve been defending the Russians. So, you paid the price in Syria in defending the Syrians, but you are defending the Russians as well, because terrorism has no political borders; for them it’s one battlefield from Russia to Syria, maybe to Indonesia, and maybe to Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean.

Question 13: How you can stop the occupation in northern Syria because of this agreement between America and Turkey, one which is Syrian soil?

President Assad: We adopted two ways: the first one and the main one was the reconciliation; it succeeded. This is how we could have brought those areas back to their normality where the people live a normal life and the government is controlling the life of the people through the institutions. The other one is attacking the terrorists whenever they don’t give up and join the reconciliation. We’re going to attack them and take control by force, which is not our favorable way, but it’s the only way to gain control of the country.

Journalist: But this like they separated the parts; they’re divided between themselves, I mean Americans and Turkey they consider it like the territory which controls the…

President Assad: Don’t believe that; America controls everything, controls Turkey, and America sent Turkey, and America prevented Turkey five years ago when Erdogan wanted to invade Syria five years ago, and they told him no. Why? Because that time the terrorists were succeeding, were expanding, so, why do we need Erdogan? When the terrorists started retreating, they told Erdogan now you can interfere because it’s getting better for Syrians and for the Russian and for this group of Iran and the groups who are fighting terrorists, so you better interfere just to make it messy again, and that’s what’s happening, but all these areas are under the control of the United States, nobody else.

Journalist: That’s why they make such a strong pressure on Iran, you mean?

President Assad: Exactly, for different reasons, but at the end they control ISIS in the east and they supported ISIS in the east, they supported al-Nusra in Idlib in the northwest, and they supported al-Nusra and ISIS and other factions in the south, the Americans, but they assign different roles to different countries. Sometime they ask the Turks, sometimes they ask the Saudis, sometimes the Qatari, and so on, but all those countries, including the French and the British, all of them are American puppets and satellites, to be very simple and clear.

Journalist: Thank you so much.

President Assad: Thank you.

24 June 2018

Syria | Full text of the interview given by Pres. Assad to Iran’s Al- Alam TV

13 June 2018

-> 'Syrian-Iranian relation is strategic, not subject to a deal, and it is linked to the present and future of the region. Neither Syria nor Iran has floated this relationship on the international political bazaar for it to be subject to haggling.'

--> 'Since the beginning of the war, particularly when it started to have a clear military nature on the southern front in particular, the Israelis used to shell Syrian forces continuously, and consequently provide direct support to the terrorists. Israeli artillery and aircraft are the terrorists’ artillery and aircraft…'

Below is the full text of the interview:

Question 1: Mr. President, there are many issues which we will talk about, but in the light of the victories you have achieved, the main focus remains the south of Syria. What’s happening exactly, or what is the nature of what is happening in the south of Syria?

President Assad: To put it simply, after the liberation of al-Ghouta, it was suggested that we should move south. We were faced with two options, as is the case in all other areas in Syria: reconciliation or liberation by force. At this point, the Russians suggested the possibility of giving reconciliation an opportunity, similar to what happened in other areas, in order to restore the situation that prevailed before 2011. In other words, for the Syrian Army to be deployed in that area, which is an area of confrontation with the Zionist enemy. And of course the terrorists should leave the area. This proposition suits us. Up till now, there are no concrete results for a simple reason which is Israeli and American interference; for they put pressure on the terrorists in that area in order to prevent reaching any compromise or peaceful resolution. That is how the situation stands now.

Question 2: So, it hasn’t been decided whether to move towards a military operation or towards reconciliation?

President Assad: No, contacts are still ongoing between the Russians, the Americans, and the Israelis, while nobody is communicating with the terrorists, because they are mere tools, and they implement what their masters decide ultimately. This is what happened, i.e. there was an opportunity to reach reconciliation, but the American and Israeli interference prevented that possibility.

Question 3: Of course, this is the reality there. But on the other hand, there are those who talk about many things taking place in the south. Mr. President, is there a certain deal, what is the price? Is there really a price for concluding this deal in the south? Let me talk frankly about the issue of getting the Iranians to leave the southern region in return for al-Tanf, for example. What did the Americans demand, or let’s say, what was the price the Americans asked to approve the reconciliation process in the south?

President Assad: For the Americans, there is a general principle they follow in dealing with any problem in the world. The only price they ask for is absolute hegemony, regardless of the issue and the place. Of course, we shall never provide that price; otherwise we wouldn’t have fought this war for years. We have been fighting for the independence of Syrian decision-making, for the Syrian homeland, and for the unity of Syrian territory. As for Iran in particular, let me be very clear: the Syrian-Iranian relationship is a strategic one not subject to a deal in the south or in the north. This relationship, in terms of its implications and results on the ground, is linked to the present and future of the region. Consequently, it is not subject to the price tags of the international bazaar. Neither Syria nor Iran has floated this relationship on the international political bazaar for it to be subject to haggling. The proposition was made by the Israelis with the objective of provoking and embarrassing Iran. At the same time, this comes in line with the international propaganda campaign launched against Iran regarding the nuclear file. It is not a separate issue; for everything happening now is linked to Iran in order to create an international position against it. As for us in Syria, the decision concerning our land is an exclusively Syrian decision. We are fighting the same battle, and when we have a decision concerning Iran, we will talk about it with the Iranians and not with any other party.

Question 4: Of course, we will talk more about Iran and in more detail, but since we are talking about the southern front, let’s explore it further. Practically, in the same context, there is the MOC which hasn’t stopped its operations since the beginning of the war on Syria about eight years ago. It is working and is still active, and is directly linked to the Israelis. But we have noticed recently that it has been reactivated, and there are more communications. Mr. President, does this mean that the Syrian state is practically moving towards a military decisive action in the south regardless of the consequences, whether things reach a stalemate or not? Is a decisive action in the cards for the Syrian leadership?

President Assad: No, MOC has nothing to do with this decision. MOC has been linked to the presence and the role of the terrorists since the beginning of the war on Syria. That’s why it existed: in order to lead them militarily. Consequently, the continued existence of this operations room means the continuation of the role given to these terrorists, i.e. they are equipped and prepared to carry out more terrorist acts. MOC is linked to the terrorists and not to the role of the Syrian state. Our role has nothing to do with it. Our decision has been clear from the beginning: we will liberate all Syrian lands. As to when to move south, north, east, or west, this is a purely military issue. But regardless of MOC, we have moved towards the south and we are giving the political process a chance. If that doesn’t succeed, we have no other option but to liberate it by force.
Question 5: But there is a confrontation in the south, and the issue is not limited geographically to Syria in the larger political sense. There are the Americans, the Russians, the Iranians, the Israelis, and Hezbollah. All these parties are there in the area. What does that mean? How are you going to deal with this?

President Assad: You are talking about two axes: one supporting terrorism, and represented by the US, Israel, and some flunkies in the region including some Arab and non-Arab states, and an anti-terrorist axis. The first axis supports terrorism and seeks hegemony, while the second axis seeks independence. So, there can be only one result for this confrontation, i.e. the victory of one of these axes. At least, as far as the anti-terrorist axis is concerned, it will not give up the process of cleaning Syria and the region of terrorism and will not give up on the unity of Syrian territory.

As to the other axis, will it change as a result of the reality on the ground? Let’s wait and see. But in terms of substance and convictions, it will not change, while in terms of the political practices dictated by reality and the facts on the ground, it might.

Question 6: Will the Americans leave al-Tanf?

President Assad: The Americans say they are ready, but everyone knows that the Americans are historically professional liars in politics. So why should we believe them? Also, we have to wait and see.

Question 7: Mr. President, what’s happening now in Jordan? Is it linked to what’s happening on the southern front in particular, i.e. is it linked to what is being plotted in that region, in your view?

President Assad: In fact, the only information we have is what we hear in the media. In any case, we wish Jordan stability, not chaos, because the latter will have a negative impact on us.

Question 8: Since we are talking about the south, let’s close this file. Mr. President, what would make the Israeli occupation agree to the return of the Syrian Army to the borders, i.e. a return to the situation which existed at the beginning of 2011, after seven years of repeated Zionist attempts, directly and indirectly, to undermine the Syrian state, the regime in Syria, and stability in Syria. Why would it agree now to the return of the Syrian Army to the borders and to the occupied Golan?

President Assad: Certainly, neither conviction, morality, nor international law means anything to the Israelis. Since the beginning of the war, particularly when it started to have a clear military nature on the southern front in particular, the Israelis used to shell Syrian forces continuously, and consequently provide direct support to the terrorists. Israeli artillery and aircraft are the terrorists’ artillery and aircraft. That applies to Jabhat al-Nusra of course. Nothing is going to change this Israeli approach. As far as we are concerned, Israel’s approval had no role at all. Despite Israeli support to the terrorists, we have been doing our job, and the Syrian Army is fighting its way towards the southern front, and has liberated a number of areas within the limits of its capabilities. So, with or without its approval, the decision is a Syrian one, and this is a national duty we shall carry out.

Question 9: So, a return of the Syrian Army is better than having resistance in the Golan, for instance?

President Assad: For the Israelis?

Journalist: Yes.

President Assad: I think the two options are bad for the Israelis. Both of them are bad. Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has repeatedly talked about Syria’s relationship with the resistance and a Syrian role in the resistance. So, how would the Israelis choose between two bad things for them?

Question 10: As you said, Mr. President, Israel has financed, supported, and more dangerously was capable of enlisting a large number of Syrians, some of whom were treated inside occupied Palestine. They talked about it. In the future, how would you deal with this large number of Israeli agents? Maybe some of them were misled and Israel might have exploited the financial and living conditions of some; and some have chosen to side with the Israelis. How would you deal with them in the future?

President Assad: This is true; we cannot put everyone in the same basket. There are different reasons for moving in this wrong direction; and these people have wronged the homeland and every Syrian citizen. Ultimately, they are the children of this homeland, and we all bear responsibility for this problem, not only those who have done wrong. When crime, for instance, becomes widespread in a certain country, the whole society bears responsibility for this crime, not only the security agencies or the criminals themselves. The first thing that should be done is to accommodate these people. Second, we need to address the root causes which led to this case of weak patriotism. The causes here are many and complicated, and the scope of this interview doesn’t allow for all of them to be mentioned.

Question 11: In the same context, while you are talking about restoring the Syrian air defense systems and confronting the Zionist occupation, statements have been made by leaders of the Israeli entity that they will strike at the depth of Syrian territory. How would you deal with that situation, particularly that balance has been achieved recently, i.e. balance between Israeli aggressions and Syrian responses?

President Assad: Basically, we haven’t stopped responding. First of all, we haven’t stopped fighting terrorists, and at the same time we haven’t stopped responding to Israeli aggression within the capabilities available to us, militarily and technically. Moreover, the more these capabilities improve; the response will be better and higher. But in fact the strongest response to Israel now is to strike the Israeli army existing in Syria which consists practically of the terrorists.

Journalist: You consider them an Israeli army?

President Assad: Of course, for they are acting clearly and starkly in Israel’s interest. The first acts they carried out were attacks against the air defense systems. What is the link between air defense systems and the terrorists acting as infantry on the ground? This was an Israeli order. It was an Israeli-American order because it is the same thing. So, they are Israel’s army inside Syria; and the first strike against Israel, politically, militarily, and in every other area, is to strike Israel’s terrorists inside Syria, whether they belong to ISIS, al-Nusra, or the other groups linked to the Israeli plan and strategy.

Journalist: If Israel escalates, are you prepared to respond more forcefully?

President Assad: This is what’s happening. It is escalating, and we are responding. Ultimately, we are fighting the war within the capabilities available to us, and we are doing our best within these capabilities. A response does not need a political decision. I stress that responding or not responding is not a political decision. It is a national decision, and it was taken from day one. But implementing this decision depends on what we can do militarily and not politically.

Question 12: In terms of capabilities, there is one issue in the media which we are always following, i.e. the S300 Russian missiles. Russia says, “We will deliver these missiles”, and then says, “We will not deliver them”, which means that the issue is not clear. What is happening exactly? Why this Russian hesitation, in your view, in delivering the S300 missiles to Syria, while some other countries have been seeking S400, i.e. they are ahead of us in this regard.

President Assad: You know that military action and military considerations are part of political considerations. Consequently, a statement, even if it is of a military nature, carries at the same time political messages. So, why did the Russians say that they want to send or not send? This is a statement that the Russians should be asked about because it might be part of their political tactics. As to the military aspect of the statement, which concerns Syria, it’s not our custom to talk about the weapon which will be delivered or not delivered. The evidence was that the weapons used in response to the last two aggressions, the tripartite aggression and after that the Israeli aggression, were not announced by Syria. We traditionally do not announce cases of a technical military nature.

Journalist: So, even the nature of the response is not linked to the issue of the S300 missiles?

President Assad: No. The same applies. Even if the S300 missiles will be provided or not provided, we will not say that they were delivered to Syria. A weapon is used when it must be used.

Journalist: Is there a possibility that you have developed certain weapons?

President Assad: This remains a possibility. In any case, the result is the same: weapons shouldn’t be talked about until they are used. Weapons announce themselves only when they are used.

Question 13: Mr. President, let’s return to the political aspect, since we are talking about the southern front. Regarding the general situation, in light of all that has been achieved on the Syrian arena today, the most prominent actor is the tripartite alliance, or what is being called the tripartite alliance. I mean Syria, Iran, and Russia. What is the nature of this alliance? Is it a temporary alliance, in the sense that it is linked to fighting terrorism or to certain developments on the Syrian arena? Recently, we have started to see – or let’s say some have focused on certain points in order to show – a certain fracture in this alliance. What is your take on that and what is the actual reality of this alliance?

President Assad: If we talk first about the Syrian-Iranian part, for 40 years, and in the different conditions that the Middle East region has gone through, this alliance remained solid. So, there is no reason to say that it is temporary or otherwise. The new element in the war on Syria is the Russian element, and that’s why this tripartite alliance came into existence. Our relationship with Russia is now about seven decades old. Despite the fluctuations and the fall of the Soviet Union, the rule of President Yeltsin, and the deterioration of these relations to a large degree for us, it has never reached the stage of reversing this relationship with Syria. Russia continued to deal with Syria as a friendly state, and we have imported everything from Russia, including weapons, during the different stages of the sanctions imposed on Syria. It is not in the nature of the Russians to build temporary or self-serving alliances or to sell out on relations in order to get deals done. The relationship is definitely a strategic one, but the political statements allowed for these speculations.

These statements also aim at sending messages in different directions. Maybe, sometimes the language or the choice of particular terminology might not be helpful and might take the statement in a different direction at odds with the content of the statement. This happens from time to time. However, these statements shouldn’t be taken out of context: the Russian view of the relationship with Iran is a strategic one. As for Syria, the Russians do not interfere in Syrian affairs. If they have a certain opinion, they raise it with us and say that in the end, the decision is that of the Syrian leadership and the Syrian people. This is a constant principle for Russia. Therefore, the alliance is a strategic one, and if there are differences, such differences happen within the Syrian state, and you see differences within the Iranian state and within the Russian state. It is natural for us to differ on daily tactical details, for why conduct a dialogue if we agree on everything? We meet extensively in order to reach agreement.

Journalist: So, this tripartite alliance is being consolidated.

President Assad: Of course. This is dictated by reality, interest, and international changes that make it necessary for this alliance to be consolidated. As long as the other axis supports terrorism, and as long as we, together with Iran and Russia, feel the danger of terrorism, not only in Syria, but also on all these countries and on the whole world, and as long as Syria, Iran, and Russia realize the importance of abiding by international law, these facts make the existence of this alliance necessary.

Question 14: But there are those who say that Syria will get a price if the Iranians leave Syrian territories. Is there a certain political, moral, or military price in this regard?

President Assad: As I said in the beginning, as long as this relationship is not floated in the bazaar, they cannot offer a price, and the answer will be clear. That’s why they don’t dare suggest this price. This issue was raised by different countries, including Saudi Arabia for instance, at the beginning of the war, and not only at the beginning, but at different stages. The proposition was that if Syria cut its relationship with Iran, the situation in Syria will be normal. This principle is basically rejected by us.

Journalist: So, there were initiatives, so to speak, made in this regard by Saudi Arabia.

President Assad: During the war?

Journalist: Yes.

President Assad: Of course, more than once, and in a clear manner.

Journalist: Directly?

President Assad: Directly. The relationship with Iran was the basis for every proposition; and Saudi Arabia’s position on this subject is public. I’m not revealing a secret.

Question 15: An issue is raised, whether in Syria, Iran, or Lebanon, about the nature of Iranian presence in Syria. Some call them Iranian advisors. Even the Syrian Foreign Minister used the same term. At the same time, we notice that there are Iranian martyrs. Frankly, Mr. President, what is the nature of Iranian presence in Syria now?

President Assad: The term adviser is sometimes used in a broad manner, i.e. these advisers have been with us, through the longstanding relationship with Iran, even before the war, because the military relationship is close. When a military formation moves to a fighting position, the adviser becomes a fighter. So, the word can be used in different senses. There are certainly Iranian advisers in Syria, and there are groups of Iranian volunteers who came to Syria, and they are led by Iranian officers. Iran has fought with and defended the Syrian people. It offered blood. That’s why when we say “advisers” this is a generic term, but this doesn’t mean that we are ashamed of any Iranian presence, even if it is official. But we use the word “advisers” because there are no regular Iranian fighting units in Syria.

Journalist: Full formations.

President Assad: Exactly. There are no battalions, or brigades, or divisions. First, we can’t hide them, and then why should we be ashamed of that? When we invited the Russians legally to come to Syria, we were not ashamed of that. And if there were an Iranian formation, we would announce it, because such relations need agreements between the two states endorsed by parliaments. Such relations cannot be concealed.

Journalist: And you invited Iranian advisers to come?

President Assad: Of course, from the beginning we invited the Iranians, and then we invited the Russians. We needed the support of these countries, and they answered the call.

Journalist: Mr. President, you said more than once that there are no Iranian bases in Syria.

President Assad: That’s correct.

Journalist: Why there are no Iranian bases, while we notice that there are a number of Russian bases?

President Assad: There’s nothing that prevents the existence of such bases as long as Iran is an ally as is Russia.

Journalist: This means that if Iran requested the existence of such bases, you would agree?

President Assad: If we ask. We will ask them to agree. I mean that we could ask for the existence of such forces to support us. Iran has never asked and does not have an interest except in fighting terrorism. But the evolution of the war made it necessary to develop the nature of this presence.

This happened as far as the Russians are concerned. In the beginning, Russian support, like Iranian support, was different from what it is today. The support for terrorism has developed internationally and globally when the Syrian Army confronted those terrorists, and with that Russian and Iranian military presence developed. At a certain stage, we found – with the Russians of course – that the existence of air bases was necessary to provide air support to the Syrian Army. And now, if we find, in cooperation, coordination, or dialogue with the Iranians, that there is a need for Iranian military bases, we will not hesitate. But now, Iranian support in its present form is good and effective.

Question 16: Why haven’t you visited Iran so far, although you visited Russia more than once?

President Assad: That’s correct. In fact, there was a scheduled visit to Iran a few months ago, and it was postponed and not cancelled. It was postponed because of an emergency in Syria related to the development of battles. There is certainly no reason which prevents such a visit, and I’ll visit Iran hopefully soon on the earliest opportunity. This is natural, but the issue is logistic, no more, no less.

Question 17: Mr. President, I move to another file. Last week, it was the Jerusalem International Day, and the Palestinian cause is going through its most difficult stages. We are talking about the “deal of the century”, and moving the American Embassy to occupied Jerusalem. What do you have to say about Palestine? Is Syria still capable of supporting the Palestine cause? Basically, wasn’t one of the most important objectives of the war on Syria to get Syria out of the axis of resistance and to prevent it from supporting resistance, whether in Lebanon or Palestine?

President Assad: The Palestine context, since 1948 up till now, has been a complicated one, because the regional context is complicated. Of course, it is complicated because the colonial West, which is particularly supportive of Israel, has always created elements which aim at one single thing. First, to drive to desperation the Arab citizen who is historically attached to the cause of Palestine and who has always considered it a pan-Arab cause that touched him even on the national level.

The other objective has been to distract the Arab peoples together with states or societies in general to marginal causes so that they do not have time to think about Israel. And they have succeeded to a great extent, most recently through the so-called Arab spring which has aimed at destroying the political, military, and psychological infrastructure of Arab societies.

Nevertheless, recent development have proven that the Arab people is still conscientiously attached to the cause of Palestine. As for Syria – since it has been part of these plots to undermine the Arab condition in general – first, for Syria to support the cause of Palestine, it should first of all destroy the Israeli army in Syria. Restoring stability in Syria, striking terrorism, and foiling the Israeli plot in Syria is certainly part of supporting the cause of Palestine. The support might be indirect with direct consequences, but these direct consequences are linked to the internal Palestinian condition. We shouldn’t forget that the Palestinians are divided between groups which resist Israel and are genuinely linked to the cause of Palestine, and other groups which are against the resistance and support surrenderist and defeatist peace, while there are other groups which use resistance as a title in order to achieve their political objectives under the slogan of religion. This is of course the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach.

Question 18: Are you prepared to offer whatever the resistance asks of you, whether in the form of political, military, or any other form of support?

President Assad: Politically, we haven’t changed. The Palestinian question for us is still as it was ten years ago and decades ago. It hasn’t changed. As to what we can offer, this has to do with two things: first, Syria’s current capabilities; and there’s no doubt that the priority is given now to cleaning Syria of terrorism. Second, it has to do with the Palestinian condition and the parties with which we can deal within the Palestinian arena.

Question 19: Since we are talking about resistance, there is the other side. In addition to some countries which stood beside Syria in fighting terrorism, there was also a role played by the resistance in Lebanon, particularly Hezbollah, which provided a great deal and contributed to fighting terrorism. What do you say, Mr. President, to resistance fighters and families of martyrs and the wounded?

President Assad: When all these groups of resistance get together to defend Syrian soil and Syrian citizens, including the Lebanese resistance and the brothers who came from Iraq some of whom reproached me for not mentioning them by name, I take this opportunity to stress that there are brothers from Iraq to whom we give the same weight of any resistance fighter who came from any other country.

There are also the families of resistance fighters who came from Iran and sacrificed their blood in Syria. We should put all these in the same basket next to the Syrian martyrs, fighters, and their families. To those I say that all the letters, the words, the sentences, and the whole of literature are much less than a single drop of blood. Therefore, words are of a much lesser value than what they have offered. What’s more important is what history will write about them.

In fact, when we talk about writing history, we need to highlight that history needs a strategy and needs tactics, but the fact remains that strategy without implementation on the ground has no value. It remains mere thought which we might include in books and essays. But the reality is that these individuals in these countries, this group of resistance fighters, not politics, write history. I would like to use the answer to this question to express to them all my love, respect, and appreciation, and my reverence to the fighters, the wounded, and martyrs, and to all their families who are courage incarnated and who sent these individuals to Syria to defend it and fight terrorism, so that these families become models of morality and principles for present and future generations.

Question 20: Have you asked Hezbollah to leave Syria? A few days ago His Eminence Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah talked about this issue and said that nobody can get us out of Syria unless the Syrian leadership asked us to do so.

President Assad: The battle is long and ongoing. When we talk about this tripartite alliance – and if we consider it a quadruple alliance when we add Hezbollah, we talk about the tripartite alliance in terms of the states included, but in the end Hezbollah is a basic element in this war – the battle is long, and the need for these military forces will continue for a long time. When there is a need, and when Hezbollah, Iran, or others believe that terrorism has been eliminated, they will tell us that they want to go home. As Sayyed Hasan said, they have families and daily interests, which is normal, but it is still early to talk about this subject.

Question 21: Up till now, there are still areas under the control of terrorism and areas under occupation. At the same time, regretfully, some Arab countries, and here I am talking particularly about Saudi Arabia, announced that it is ready to send forcers to Syria. On the other hand, a few days ago popular tribal units were formed to resist occupation. Are these really popular resistance units? Do they receive support from the Syrian government? Does this mean that the army cannot liberate those areas, and that’s why it is asking for the help of the tribes? What is the nature of this issue?

President Assad: There are different forms of this resistance which appeared a few years ago. In the beginning they were fighting ISIS before they started to fight the occupiers. They were against ISIS in the central and eastern regions, and there were cases where they appeared in other regions which were not given media coverage and about which we hear sometimes through information and indications.

Now, this situation has started to expand. So, it’s not one single case. There are a number of cases which might be individual sometimes, or in the form of small groups not affiliated to an organization. In any case, our position as a state has been from the beginning to support any act of resistance, whether against terrorists or against occupying forces, regardless of their nationality, i.e. American, French, Turkish, or Israeli. We support these resistance forces based on our national role as a government.

Question 22: What about Saudi Arabia and sending Saudi forces to Syria?

President Assad: First, when we talk about a state, we should assume that such a state can take decisions independently. That’s why we will not talk about the role of Saudi Arabia. You better ask me about the American decision on this issue.

Question 23: On the other hand, there are a number of Arab countries which we talk about and which had a role or contributed to the role or to the destruction of Syria. These countries are now trying to get to Syria through the reconstruction process. What do you say in this regard, particularly that these countries are the ones which have capital and huge financial power? How are you going to deal with that?

President Assad: Reconstruction in Syria is not a cause for concern for us. It needs two factors: first, the human factor which is more important than the financial factor. When a country like Syria possesses the human factor, the financial cost will be less when it comes to reconstruction. This is self-evident, and we possess all these factors despite the fact that many competent and qualified Syrians have immigrated because of the war.

But we still have the capability to start reconstruction. And the evidence is clear now, for the state is moving forward and reconstruction has begun. As to money, the Syrian people have financial capabilities, capital, most of which is not in Syria, but outside Syria. But there is capital waiting for reconstruction to begin, so it will begin investing. On the other hand, there are the friendly countries which have capabilities and have the desire; and we have the desire to have them participate in reconstruction, so that they benefit and we Syrians benefit from this process. In the end, we do not need those countries and we will never allow them to be part of reconstruction.

Journalist: Never?

President Assad: Absolutely.

Journalist: Not even if there was a need in this regard, I mean in terms of financial resources?

President Assad: Financial resources are not everything. As I said, this is available. There are different sources in the world and in Syria for capital.

Question 24: With these tough years, we are talking about the legendary steadfastness of the Syrian Army, the Syrian people, the Armed Forces. If you wanted to talk about two cases, the most difficult case or incident that you have encountered during these years, and on the other hand the best and most beautiful case.

President Assad: It is natural, at the heart of the military battle, for the best and worst cases to be linked to the development of the military battle. If I say that the worst cases were when terrorists used to control a certain area, this is self-evident, but it is related more to specific battles, particularly when the area is strategic or the city is big with a large population. Consequently, the impact will be much greater psychologically and in terms of morale.

But there was an ongoing situation which we are still living and we must think about: when a martyr or a group of martyrs fall, and this is ongoing on a weekly basis for us, we must think that a family lost a dear one who cannot be compensated. He might be compensated by achieving victory at a certain stage, but on the family, psychological and human level, you cannot compensate a dear one lost to a certain family, or maybe a friend. This is a very painful situation which we have lived and continue to live. This will not stop until the war itself stops. But there were painful cases at the beginning of the war, when you see this huge lack of patriotism. They were perhaps a minority, but a large minority, of individuals who were prepared to sell the homeland and trade it together with their principles, if they had ones, in return for money or a certain interest, in addition to a certain percentage of extremism.

On the other hand, there were victories, particularly when victories started in the city of al-Qsair in 2013, and culminated in the city of Aleppo in 2016, that was the beginning of the major victories. That was followed by Deir Ezzor, and today we are living the joy of liberating Damascus and its countryside. This is a situation we have all lived through, and you were with us, and I am sure you feel the same joy.

Question 25: Have you felt tired at a certain moment? Have you felt hesitant at a certain moment, in light of all the decisions you have taken, have you ever, even for a moment, thought of leaving? Haven’t you said to yourself: let me save my family and resign, as some people did at a certain point in time?

President Assad: This question might be raised in a personal manner. When I am faced with a personal situation as an individual, I might feel despair after a few months. I might feel tired or bored or I might want to move to a different situation, or give up. That is possible.

Journalist: As an individual?

President Assad: Of course, as an individual, but the case you are proposing is not personal, it is national. Imagine yourself in a different condition, perhaps building something on your own. You feel tired, but when you see a large number of people helping you build it and share the same determination, you forget the tiredness.

Now we are in a national situation. We are talking about millions of Syrians. When you see a shell striking and victims falling anywhere in Syria, you feel frustrated. But when you see life being restored to the same area after one hour, your psychological condition changes. When you see that the electricity worker, the oil worker, the teacher, the employee, are moving side by side with fighters, moving without despair and without tiredness, how can you feel tired? This is a collective condition not related to me as a person. It has to do with our human condition when we are together as a society. How do we live? This defines whether you are tired or not. Would the Syrian society have arrived at this stage of despair and surrender, I would certainly have been with it. I would have surrendered because I do not have the necessary elements for steadfastness. This is self-evident.

Journalist: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for giving us this opportunity, and for your candidness in answering these questions. Thank you very much.

(13 June 2018)