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    This photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows members of the Syrian Civil Defense group helping a wounded man after airstrikes hit Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Thursday, March. 1, 2018

    Assad Remark on White Helmets Being UK PR Stunt 'Consistent With Evidence' –Prof

    © AP Photo / Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets
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    Bashar Assad has accused London of openly supporting the White Helmets, whom he described as a branch of al-Qaeda. In the Syrian president's words, the White Helmets are little more than a "PR stunt by the UK." Speaking to Sputnik, Dr. Tim Anderson, professor and author of two books on the Syrian war, shared his perspective on Assad's remarks.

    Sputnik: What are your thoughts on the statement made by the Syrian president about the White Helmets?

    Tim Anderson: Well at first the British, the Americans and the White Helmets themselves denied that there was any financial link. Fairly soon after that it emerged that the US and Britain in particular were giving a very large amount of money to them. At the same time, as independent evidence shows, both Britain and the US were also funding groups associated with al-Qaeda.

    So what the Syrian president said is entirely consistent with the evidence over several years now that the British government in particular, the major donor to the White Helmets, has been funding this effective PR branch of al-Qaeda to try and manipulate world opinion.

    Sputnik: In his interview with British media, Mr. Assad also said that the White Helmets were a 'PR stunt' by Britain. How much truth is there in this claim?

    Tim Anderson: We've got a lot of independent witnesses of the incident in Douma in April, and they've all said the same thing: that it was entirely staged. There's also evidence that there was pressure directly from sources in Britain to move ahead that stunt just as the Syrian army was liberating East Ghouta and the city of Douma too.

    Syrians, first three from right, brought to The Hague by Russia in a move to discredit reports of an April 7, 2018, chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma appear at a press conference in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, April 26, 2018, after briefing members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, (OPCW)
    © AP Photo / Peter Dejong
    Syrians, first three from right, brought to The Hague by Russia in a move to discredit reports of an April 7, 2018, chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma appear at a press conference in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, April 26, 2018, after briefing members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, (OPCW)

    Sputnik: In your view, why has the UK been so supportive of the White Helmets? What objectives are they attempting to reach in Syria?

    Tim Anderson: The entire strategy of the proxy army has been one of trying to topple the Syrian government or divide the country – to undermine the will of and fragment the country by these proxy armies; by these groups that have openly associated themselves with al-Qaeda if they aren't al-Qaeda themselves.

    The British have cheered that on for the last seven years along with some of their NATO partners. The propaganda war has been important for them to try to destabilize and delegitimize the Syrian government in this war – to try and prevent them from fighting the al-Qaeda groups. The White Helmets have played a very important role in this.

    So everything is consistent with what the Syrian president is now saying: that Britain was indeed fundamentally responsible for this fake incident to try and avoid Syria reclaiming its own territory.

    White Helmets, seen here celebrating with Nusra extremists
    White Helmets, seen here celebrating with Nusra extremists

    Sputnik: If London decides to increase funding for the White Helmets organization, what consequences could this have on the civil war in Syria?

    Tim Anderson: I don't think that would really change things very much, just as the missile strikes carried out on the basis of that incident [didn't have] much effect at all. It's a strange sort of thing. Several missile strikes and several false flags are not really changing the general trend of things.

    The proxy armies have been destroyed; they're being destroyed now in the south of Syria. Idlib is the major area [in the north]. The only thing that is really influencing the termination or culmination of this war is the direct occupation now by some of the powers that have been behind these groups – that is to say Israel, Turkey and the US occupying Syrian territory. That's the one thing that seems to be extending the fulfillment of this war.

    Sputnik: In April, President Trump has said that Washington would withdraw its troops from Syria 'very soon'. Is this possible in your view?

    Tim Anderson: It is possible, because remember Trump's instincts two years ago were to get out of a losing war. It was a practical type of decision. It's surprising in some respects that he backed down so spectacularly from that. But there is no real winning gambit for the Americans. Yes, they're occupying some parts of east and northern Syria now, but their major proxies are in the process of being destroyed. That trend hasn't been interrupted, and there really isn't much of a gambit to play there…

    The problem here is that the US can still cause damage. It can't win in these circumstances, but it can still cause damage. For example, the remnants of Daesh still persist in parts of eastern Syria only because the other parts are still occupied by US forces. So there's a spoiler role in the endgame going on here as a result of the US still occupying significant parts of Syria.

    Sputnik: What are Israel's aims in Syria? Turkey seems to be trying to prevent the creation of a Kurdish state in Syria. What about Israel?

    Tim Anderson: Israel of course for some decades now has occupied part of Syria, and been trying to extend that occupied territory from the Golan Heights into parts of southern Syria. It's quite alarmed at the prospect of the stationing of unified force with Syria backed by its allies Iran and Hezbollah on the border of that illegally occupied territory. 

    So Israel is very upset and his been the one that's been making all the moves to try and get the big powers to move against Iran. The US is not going to move against Iran, despite the fact that its fallen back into this type of economic war. Israel is very nervous, basically, because they have been supporting these Islamist groups in the south of Syria. They've said that very openly. They've treated them in their hospitals. There's been ammunition from Israel found with them. And they're very concerned about that because the Golan Heights is clearly the big sore point in the relationship between Syria and Israel, and that might come to a head fairly soon.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with a Syrian man, who was wounded in the ongoing violence in Syria as he visits a military hospital located in the Golan Heights near the border with Syria on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014
    © AP Photo / Menahem Kahana, Pool
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with a Syrian man, who was wounded in the ongoing violence in Syria as he visits a military hospital located in the Golan Heights near the border with Syria on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014

    Dr. Tim Anderson is a senior lecturer in the department of political economy at the University of Sydney and the author of two books on the Syrian crisis including The Dirty War on Syria. The views expressed by Dr. Anderson are those of the speaker, and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    reaction, remarks, White Helmets, Bashar al-Assad, Syria, United Kingdom
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