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    Syrians display national flags and banners with photos of Syrian President Bashar Assad during a pro-government event in Damascus, Syria. (File)

    Assad Must Stay: 'A War Involving Fighters From 86 Countries Isn't a Civil War'

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    Only days before the US made its decision to carry out cruise missile strikes against Syria, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley dug up some Obama-era rhetoric that Syrian President Bashar Assad must go. In response, Syrian Ambassador to Ukraine Hassan Haddur explained why the US pretext for toppling the Syrian government is completely nonsensical.

    Last Monday, a day before the suspected chemical attack in the town of Khan Shaykhun in rebel-held Idlib province, and a few days more before the US launched dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Ash Sha'irat airbase in Homs province, Ambassador Haley told reporters that Syrians don't want Assad as president anymore.

    Washington, she said, would find it unacceptable for Assad to remain president after elections. "We don't think the people want Assad anymore. We don't think he is going to be someone that people will want to have," Haley noted, indirectly responding to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's earlier comments that the president's status would be determined by the Syrian people. 

    "We have no love for Assad. We've made that very clear. We think that he has been a hindrance to peace for a long time. He's a war criminal. What he's done to his people is nothing more than disgusting," Haley added, as if to preempt the rest of the week's events. The US immediately blamed the Syrian government for Tuesday's chemical attack, despite ample evidence that Damascus wasn't involved, and went on to rain cruise missiles down on the country just two days later.

    Offering a detailed response to the UN envoy, Syrian diplomat Hassan Haddur explained to Ukraine's '2000' newspaper why Haley's opinion about the views of the 'Syrian people' has absolutely no merit.

    For starters, Haddur pointed out that the war which Syria has suffered over six years couldn't really be classified as a civil war in the first place. "Civil wars take place within a country between people who live in that country. But kindly tell me, is it possible to consider a war in which terrorists from 86 countries take part a civil war?"

    The diplomat recalled that in March 2011, at the very start of the unrest, Syria "did indeed see demonstrations. But these were peaceful protests, where legitimate demands were put forward. The state, I would like to stress, fulfilled everything that the protesters asked." This included the government's agreement to create a new constitution in 2012, including provisions for free elections, presidential term limits, the removal of the Ba'ath Party's monopoly on political life in the country, and guarantees to a series of social and political rights and freedoms.

    Furthermore, Haddur emphasized that Syria had engaged in socio-economic reforms since the early 2000s, when President Bashar Assad first came to power. "By 2011, these reforms had made it possible for Syria to have essentially zero foreign debt. On the whole, progress had been felt in many areas of life. In addition, in 2011, Syria was among the top ten safest countries in the world. At that time, our country was able to almost completely ensure its food security, first of all in wheat. The same was true in the production of medicines: we provided for 95% of our own needs."

    This was also true so far as rights, including women's rights, were concerned, the diplomat stressed. "The freedoms we have in our country relating to women – they do not exist in any other Arab country! Imagine it: in 2010 there were seven women ministers. There were many women representatives among politicians as well.

    "Furthermore," Haddur recalled, "in our country, the representatives of various religious communities have always coexisted. After all, the representatives of over 29 nationalities live in Syria. And we were very proud of the fact that conditions had been created in our country – both cultural and religious, for the representatives of all nationalities and communities."

    Such a peaceful state of affairs had persisted in Syria for centuries, the diplomat added. "For this reason, there is no justification to the suggestion that the war currently taking place in Syria is a civil war, much less a religious one between supporters of different denominations."

    Unfortunately, Haddur lamented that the government's concessions in 2011 and 2012 did not lead to the abatement of protests, which had instead begun to turn violent. He emphasized that foreign powers would eventually contribute immense amounts of money and resources toward destabilizing the country.

    A Syrian woman holds a sign calling for the arming of rebels as civilians and Free Syrian Army members march during a protest against the Syrian government in the northern city of Aleppo on October 5, 2012
    © AFP 2017/ Tauseef MUSTAFA
    A Syrian woman holds a sign calling for the arming of rebels as civilians and Free Syrian Army members march during a protest against the Syrian government in the northern city of Aleppo on October 5, 2012

    Many foreign powers were involved, the official said, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Western powers. Their tactics included the recruitment of agents among Syrian officials, sometimes even high-ranking officials, to participate in the country's destabilization in the very first days of the conflict.

    The 'foundation' for the opposition quickly became Wahhabi Islam, Haddur added. "On the eve of the war, the extremist Wahhabi current of Islam became more active in Saudi Arabia. They adhere to the following rule: that Muslims who do not support Wahhabism are apostates. Many Syrians worked in Saudi Arabia over many years, and when they came home, they were to a greater or lesser extent carriers of this radical religious current."

    Furthermore, the diplomat stressed, when the crisis began to turn violent, "Saudi Arabia whipped up huge resources to spread this [strain of Islam] in Syria, mainly in those regions where people had low levels of education. In time, this led to a situation where a number of people for whom a state of [religious] war became a normal state of affairs."

    There were geo-economic considerations for foreign involvement too, Haddur added, particularly among the Gulf monarchies seeking to lay oil and gas pipelines through Syria.

    "Indeed, shortly before the [2011] events began, Qatar made a proposal to lay a pipeline through our territory to Europe. Here I would like to note that Syria has its own gas and oil resources. And the Syrian government cannot make decisions or approve proposals from outside which are contrary to our national interests. Along with Qatar, we received offers from other countries. The Qatari offer was actually less lucrative than the others. But in rejecting these proposals, we were governed by the central principle: first and foremost to protect the interests of our country."

    Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani, prime minister of Qatar, speaks during a Security Council meeting about Syria at United Nations headquarters Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012.
    © AP Photo/ Seth Wenig
    Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani, prime minister of Qatar, speaks during a Security Council meeting about Syria at United Nations headquarters Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012.

    Finally, the ambassador stressed that then, as now, the main agent among the powers pushing the 'Assad must go' narrative was the US. "Before the start of the Syrian events, the voice of the US was the strongest in the world. It's really no secret who had the most interest in seeing a change of power in Egypt, Libya, Yemen or Iraq."

    Emphasizing just how insulting the US's regime change rhetoric really is, Haddur suggested that "it would be interesting to see how the people of the United States, France or the United Kingdom would react if someone came from outside and said: your president must go. After all, posing such a question is not only a geopolitical or economic consideration. It is a sign of disrespect for the people of the country where a change of power is sought."

    Haddur stressed that the so-called 'Friends of Syria Group', the collective of Western and Gulf countries supporting President Assad's ouster, "had held mass discussions, from the very start, on the possibilities for war, rather than on how to avoid the conflict. They attempted to implement the US plan for dividing the country. Factually, these 'friends' are participants in a large-scale conspiracy against us. The number of terrorists, according to our calculations, is about 150,000 persons."

    "As for the so-called international coalition, it's worth recalling that everything that it's doing, including the bombing of Syrian territory, is aggression against our government, the violation of our territorial integrity." The ambassador recalled that from the very beginning of the Western coalition's campaign of airstrikes, the territory controlled by the Daesh terrorists only grew. "Only after Russia came to assist us – following an official request from Damascus, did we see progress. Then the terrorists began to retreat."

    Israel too has played an active role in seeking to depose Syria's government, the diplomat explained. "The policy of this country is undoubtedly aimed at expanding its territories. For Syria, Israel is an aggressor country. Their occupation of the Golan Heights is confirmed by Israeli officials themselves. Even now, numerous reports in the media (both Western and in the Middle East) show that Israeli hospitals are providing medical support to the militants. In doing so, they are supporting the terrorists fighting in Syria."

    An Israeli soldier stands on top of a Merkava tank near the border with Syria in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, on November 28, 2016
    © AFP 2017/ JACK GUEZ
    An Israeli soldier stands on top of a Merkava tank near the border with Syria in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, on November 28, 2016

    Ultimately, commenting on President Assad's recent expression of hope that the Syrian war would come to an end in the near future, Haddur stressed that this will be possible only when foreign support for the terrorists comes to an end.

    "The war in Syria will end only when those who have come from abroad and who are fighting on the territory of our state no longer receive foreign support. If the UN Security Council demands that the borders with Syria are closed, preventing the entry of militants into our country, the war will end very quickly. If, as now, the border with Turkey is not blocked off, and 50,000 militants come to Syria from the country, and tomorrow another 10,000 will come, and the next day even more, then the war will go on forever."

    Nonetheless, "of course, we hope for the best. Of course, we expect that the war will end, and that peace will come," the ambassador concluded.

    Commenting on Friday morning's cruise missile strikes, Syrian military expert Hasan Hasan told Sputnik Arabic that unfortunately, "their purpose is not to end the war, but to see the further escalation of the conflict."

    For his part, Ali Ahmed, an advisor to the Syrian Information Minister, lamented that the cruise missile attack was part and parcel of the "framework of a common aggressive policy against Syria –pushing for the creation of a 'New Middle East', controlled chaos, and Tel Aviv's interests."

    Still, Ahmed stressed that he was confident that Syria would not suffer the same fate as Iraq or Libya. "It was possible to rip apart these countries after the destruction of their state institutions. Syria, in spite of a protracted war and the presence of hundreds of thousands of militants on its territory, continues to preserve its territorial integrity. Salaries are paid on time, even to those in terrorist-controlled areas. Educational and medical institutions continue their work. In the north, wheat is being grown, agriculture is lively."

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    expert commentary, diplomatic official, official, diplomacy, Hassan Haddur, Nikki Haley, Bashar al-Assad, Israel, United States, Middle East, Syria
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