A group of seven politicians from the right-wing party "Alternative for Germany" has visited Syria to find out whether the country is safe, citing a lack of trust in the media's coverage of the conflict.
“We have set out to Syria in order to receive information about the humanitarian situation in the country on-site. We do not rely exclusively on media coverage, which paints a horrifying picture of the developments, we want to find out what the living conditions are,” Christian Blex, an AfD parliamentarian from the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) told Sputnik.
Shell-Holes from Terrorist Mortar Attack in Cathedral
The delegation entered Syria from Lebanon on March 5, with its first destination being the country's capital, Damascus. Firstly, the politicians met with religious figures.
Was die Staatsmedien nicht berichten: Am 5. Februar wurde die Kathedrale der syrisch-orthodoxen Kirche gezielt von "moderaten" Terroristen von Ost-Ghuta aus mit Granatwerfern beschossen. Altar und Boden wurden beschädigt. Zum Glück kam niemand zu Schaden. #Syrienreise pic.twitter.com/Jb7NlzOm9Q— Dr. Christian Blex (@ChristianBlex) 7 марта 2018 г.
“What the state media won’t tell: On February 5, “moderate” terrorists from Eastern Ghouta shelled a Syrian Orthodox Church with mortars. The altar and floor were damaged, fortunately, no one was hurt,” Blex wrote on Twitter.
The group held a meeting with Syrian Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, who reportedly called for Syrian refugees to return home. Christian Blex posted a picture from the meeting on his Twitter:
Treffen mit dem Großmufti, Ihre Exzellenz Dr. Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun. Betont, wie wichtig Trennung von Religion und Kirche ist! Ruft Syrer in Deutschland zur Rückkehr auf. Würde d. Aufruf auch von Berlin aus machen! Frau Merkel, laden Sie ihn doch mal zu sich ein. #syrienreise pic.twitter.com/7KdzrmfK2x— Dr. Christian Blex (@ChristianBlex) 5 марта 2018 г.
“His excellence Syria’s Grand Mufti has emphasized how important the separation of various religions from the state is for their peaceful coexistence in this country. It is also of particular importance to him that Christians in Syria have equal rights with people of other religions,” Blex explained.
The delegation managed to speak to the representative of the Patriarch of Damascus, who supported the Grand Mufti’s aspirations.
“We have also visited the cathedral. They showed us shell-holes, caused by the terrorists' mortar attack on February 5,” said Blex.
Audienz beim Stellvertreter des Patriarchen der syrisch-orthodoxen Kirche. Setzte sich für die Trennung von Staat und Religion ein. Christen lebten in Syrien ohne Diskriminierung. Syrer im Ausland, die Trennung von Religion+Staat akzeptieren, sollten zurückkehren. #Syrienreise pic.twitter.com/skmUBV94W0— Dr. Christian Blex (@ChristianBlex) 6 марта 2018 г.
Desire to Restore Normal Diplomatic Relations
The AfD delegation also plans to hold meetings with senior Syrian officials and politicians. They have spoken to the minister of state for national reconciliation affairs about the Syrian government’s program, aimed at reintegrating the rebels into peaceful life.
"The government grants amnesty to people willing to reintegrate into peaceful life, as long as they have not committed war crimes. There is a whole array of people, and even cities that are ready to reintegrate, seeking negotiations. […] They also told us about the background of terrorist groups in Syria and foreign influence on these groups: some are financed by Turkey; others are funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar or the United States. We have also found out that the United States maintains its bases in Syria in violation of the norms of international law," Blex elaborated.
Dienstagabend Treffen mit Dr. Ali Haidar, dem Minister für nationale Versöhnung. Über 100.000 ehemalige feindliche Kämpfer seien ins Zivilleben zurückgekehrt, nachdem ihnen Amnestie gewährt worden sei. Mehr als 100 Gemeinden und Städte wieder friedlich reintegriert. #Syrienreise pic.twitter.com/5QOnjccJja— Dr. Christian Blex (@ChristianBlex) 7 марта 2018 г.
"The meeting with Mr Ali Haidar, the minister for national reconciliation on Tuesday evening. He told us that over 100,000 former militants (fighting against the government) have returned to peaceful life following the amnesty. More than 100 municipalities and towns have been reintegrated into peaceful life."
Furthermore, it appears that Syria is in dire need of labor and would be glad if those Syrians who left for Germany returned home. Blex has also said that the minister of foreign affairs told the delegation that the officials were aware of Syrians with Islamist background living in Germany.
"He warned us against letting people who may be dangerous into the country. But he also wants to restore normal diplomatic relations with our country," Blex said, saying that another topic on the agenda was Turkey’s military operation in Afrin, which has spurred outrage among Syrians.
Is Syria a Safe Country of Origin?
The first two days of the trip the group spent in Damascus, with politicians being impressed by the cleanliness of the streets and the peaceful life in the city. However, the AfD members preferred to steer clear of the territories being constantly shelled from Eastern Ghouta.
#Damaskus ist eine Reise wert, kann ich nur sagen. Die Leute sind höflich und das Essen schmeckt ausgezeichnet. Trotzdem vergessen wir nicht das alte arabische Sprichwort: Gott segne den, der Besuche macht – aber kurze. #familiennachzug #Syrienreise pic.twitter.com/lfKMBVT0o7— Dr. Christian Blex (@ChristianBlex) 6 марта 2018 г.
"I can only say that Damascus is worth visiting. People are polite and the food is very delicious. Nevertheless, keep in mind the old Arab saying: God bless those who pay visits – but short ones," he wrote on Twitter.
When asked whether Syria was a safe country of origin, Blex said that the first impression was that it was, although said that they could not make a conclusion based on what they had already seen.
"We didn't see any danger on our way from Lebanese border to Damascus. Certainly, there is some threat closer to the territories, where terrorists are, due to the shelling. But they are limited to several regions in Syria. As soon as we visit Homs and Aleppo, we will have a full picture of the situation. For now, I would share the US's evaluation and say that Syria is a safe country," Blex told Sputnik.
Auf dem Basar in #Damaskus. Alltag pur. Moderne Geschäfte. Frauen mit und ohne Kopftuch. Kaum zu glauben, dass jetzt zigtausend syrische Männer in Deutschland sind und auch noch ihre Familien nachholen sollen… #Syrienreise pic.twitter.com/BqqvYpkH1T— Dr. Christian Blex (@ChristianBlex) 6 марта 2018 г.
“At the fair in Damascus. Usual weekdays. Modern shops. Women in headscarves and without them. It's hard to believe that tens of thousands of Syrian men are in Germany now, and their families have yet to join them…”
Criticism from German Politicians and Media
While AfD MPs continue their journey through Syria, many colleagues have lashed out at them at home.
"It's unnatural to meet with the criminal clique, while the dictator Assad uses bombs and poison gas," said an outraged Michael Brand, human rights representative from the faction CDU/CSU in the Bundestag.
He called the Syrian Grand Mufti "brutal Assad’s Grand Mufti who has called on suicide-bombers to commit terrorist attacks in Europe and has personally approved of thousands of death sentences."
Rolf Mützenich, expert on foreign policy from the SPD, insisted that the trip would have repercussions in the Bundestag.
"It will be discussed in [parliamentary] committees. The Council of Elders will also check who has financed the trip," Zeit newspaper cited him as saying.
While other German daily newspapers have also slammed the trip, Christian Blex said that they are distorting the facts, as the Grand Mufti is a very peace-loving and educated person, and the reports about the developments in the country are also one-sided.
"They also report about the government forces' offensive in Eastern Ghouta all the time. However, they conceal the fact that terrorists from Eastern Ghouta are shelling civilians and hospitals. They do not report it, because such information does not fit well into this black-and-white picture. What a shame, in such a country as Germany, which is a democracy, there is an obvious lack of information flow and honest coverage of events in the area. I believe that German media coverage of Syrian conflict is fundamentally untrue," he said.