Sunday Times: Mr. President, your latest proposals on political dialogue were regarded as a firm refusal to negotiate an end to violence with armed rebels and the main opposition alliance, the Syrian National Coalition. Is it true that you are ready to stretch the olive branch of the world only to moderate opposition, mostly internal, who refused to fight and recognize the legitimacy of your leadership?
President Al-Asad: First of all, let me correct some of the misconceptions that are contained in your question so that my answer will be more precise.
Sunday Times: Good.
President Al-Asad: First, when I announced a peace plan, I said that it was for those interested in dialogue. Because it is impossible to make a plan based on a dialogue with someone who does not believe in dialogue. I hope everything is clear about this.
Secondly, it is an open dialogue, which should not be only between certain groups. It should be held between all Syrians at all levels. This is a dialogue about the future of Syria. We are twenty-three million Syrians. Each of us has the right to participate in shaping the future of the country. Some may look at this as a dialogue between the government and certain groups of internal or external opposition. But in reality, this is a very superficial look at dialogue. It should be much more comprehensive. It is about every Syrian, about every aspect of people's lives. The future of a country cannot be determined by anyone without taking into account the will and aspirations of all its citizens.
Another aspect of the dialogue is that it opens up the possibility for militants to fold weapon. To facilitate this process, we offer amnesty. This is the only way to involve the members of these groups in the dialogue. Even before the plan was announced, some of them laid down arms and now live a normal life. But this plan makes this process more transparent and organized.
If you want to talk about the opposition, then I must say that in the West there is another misconception. They put all the objects in one basket, even those that are not homogeneous. According to their approach, it turns out that all those who oppose the government are the opposition. It is necessary to clearly say that there is an opposition, which is a political entity, and there are armed terrorists. We can engage in dialogue with the opposition, but we cannot engage in dialogue with terrorists. We fight terrorism.
When it comes to the internal Syrian opposition, that the opposition groups should be patriotic in relation to Syria, it must be emphasized that the internal and external opposition are not geographical concepts. And it would be wrong to say that the internal opposition is one that is loyal to the government. We consider where their roots, resources and representations are. Do they originate from Syria, represent the interests of the Syrian people and the state - or express the will of foreign governments. We look at the dialogue, proceeding from these principles, we start it and we will continue in the same spirit.
Sunday Times: Most of those whom we consider to be the external opposition, behind which the whole world stands, have rejected the dialogue and reacted with disbelief to this idea. They called your proposal "a waste of time", some of them said that it was "empty rhetoric." British Minister William Hague called him "hypocritical," and the Americans said that you were "cut off from reality."
President Al-Assad: I will not comment on what the so-called "Syrian" organizations, which are outside Syria, said. These groups are not independent. We Syrians are independent, and we must respond to the words of those who are also independent. But this is not the case.
So let's look at other claims. First, on the charge of isolation from reality. Syria has been fighting enemies for two years. It would be impossible without public support. And people will not support someone who is divorced from reality.
Recent public opinion polls in the UK show that most of the British want to save Syria and do not approve of sending weapons to the rebels. Despite this, the British leadership continues to push the issue of lifting the arms embargo in the EU in order to begin supplying the militants with heavy weapons. This is what I call being cut off from reality when the government is protected from its own public opinion.
They go further, claiming that they want to send military aid to militants, which they call "non-lethal". However, in the hands of terrorists, intelligence, communications, and financial resources — all this assistance becomes deadly. September 11 events were not committed with lethal weapons — this was the result of using non-lethal technologies.
The British government wants to send military aid to the so-called moderate groups in Syria, although it knows well that there are no moderate groups in Syria. This is hypocrisy. We know that we are fighting al-Qaeda or Dzhebhat An-Nusra militants, which is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, as well as other groups whose members adhere to extremist ideology.
Hypocritically, when you talk about freedom of speech and at the same time disconnect Syrian TV channels from European broadcasting satellites, when you cry that someone was killed in Syria, but do not allow the UN Security Council to accept a statement condemning the terrorist bombings. For example, those that occurred last week in Damascus. You have seen that more 300 Syrians were killed or injured, including women and children. They were all civilians.
Hypocrisy is when you preach the ideas of human rights and at the same time go to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya to kill hundreds of thousands of people in illegal wars.
Hypocrisy - to talk about democracy, having in its closest allies the worst totalitarian regimes in the world, which, in fact, are medieval.
Sunday Times: But you treat people fighting here like terrorists. Although some of them represent “Dzhebhat An-Nusru” and are associated with “Al-Qaeda”, but there are others, such as the “Syrian Free Army”. Some of them are deserters, some are just ordinary people who started the uprising. They are not terrorists, they are people who are fighting for what they think is right at the moment.
President Al-Assad: When we say that we are fighting Al-Qaida, we mean that Al-Qaida is the main and most dangerous terrorist group. I have already said in many interviews and speeches that this is not the only group in Syria. The range of militants stretches from petty criminals to drug dealers, kidnappers and murderers. Many of them are mercenaries, they kill and kidnap people for money. Obviously, they do not have any political program or ideology.
The so-called “Free Army” does not have its own face, although in the West everything is done so that people believe in its image. It represents hundreds of small groups. This is confirmed by international organizations working with Kofi Annan and Al-Ibrahimi. The SSA has no leadership, no hierarchy. This is a bunch of different gangs. The name "Free Syrian Army" is only an umbrella, which is used to cover these groups.
This does not mean that at the beginning of the conflict there was no spontaneous movement. There were people who wanted a change in Syria. I have publicly spoken about this many times. That is why I proposed a dialogue on the future of Syria. Many of these people still desire change, but are now opposing the terrorists. They still criticize the government, but they don’t carry weapons. The desire for change does not make the use of weapons legal.
Sunday Times: Your three-point plan speaks about ending the violence. It is obvious that on one side there is an army in which there is a hierarchy, there is a commander who can order the cease fire. But when you propose an end to the violence, you demand the same from the rebels. However, you yourself say that they have many groups and there is no single leadership. So, this item can not be done? Further, you are proposing a referendum, but with so many displaced persons, including many opposition members, is it possible to hold a fair referendum without their participation? The third part of the plan implies parliamentary elections, and we hope that they will take place in 2014 year. So, do you suppose that some of the conditions in the plan cannot be achieved?
President Al-Assad: It depends on how we look at the situation. First of all, the main part of the plan is dialogue. He will determine the future schedule of the program and its details.
The first article of my plan talks about ending the violence. If we cannot stop it, how can we achieve everything else, hold a referendum or an election? But the difficulties in stopping violence are not the reason why nothing should be done. Yes, there are a lot of groupings, as I said, that have no leadership. But we know that their real leaders are those countries that finance them and supply them with weapons - mainly Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
If external parties sincerely want to help the peace process, then they should put pressure on these countries to stop supplies to terrorists. Like any other sovereign state, we will not negotiate with terrorists.
Sunday Times: Your critics say that real negotiations can be the cause of your fall and the collapse of your government. So, you offer practically impossible scenarios of dialogue and negotiations?
President Al-Asad: If it is logical to argue, then enemies or opponents should strive for this dialogue, because, from their point of view, it will lead to my death. But, in fact, they do the opposite. They discourage the so-called "opposition", located outside Syria, from participating in the dialogue. Because they understand that this dialogue will not contribute to my fall. In fact, the dialogue will only make Syria stronger. This is the first aspect.
The second aspect is that the dialogue will be about Syria, about terrorism and about the future of the country. This is not about the position or personality. I'm not doing this for myself. In the end, what they say contradicts what they do.
Sunday Times: You said that if they call for dialogue, it can lead to your fall?
President Al-Asad: No, I ask: if they say that the dialogue would lead to my downfall, then why should they shy away from the dialogue? I invite them to dialogue. Why don't they go to him to make me fall? This is self-evident. That's why I said that they contradict themselves.
Sunday Times: Mr. President, John Kerry, a man you know well, began a tour to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. He will talk about your fate. In London and Berlin earlier this week, he declared "President Al-Asad must leave." He also said that one of his priority steps was to develop diplomatic proposals to convince you to relinquish power. Would you invite him to Damascus for talks? What would you say to him, given his statements and what he plans to say to his allies? And, if possible, tell us about what you knew about him in the past?
President Al-Assad: I would like to discuss politics, and not give a description of individuals. It's too early to judge him. It's only been a few weeks since he became Secretary of State.
First of all, what you mentioned is related to internal Syrian issues. I will not discuss such issues with any of the foreigners. We will only talk about this with the Syrians, here in Syria. So, I am not going to deal with those who come from abroad. We have friends, and we will discuss our questions with friends, we can listen to their advice. But, in the end, we ourselves, like the Syrians, make a decision based on the fact that this is good for our country.
If someone really - I emphasize the word "really" - wants to help Syria and help stop the violence in our country, he can do it in only one way. He can go to Turkey and urge Erdogan to stop sending terrorists to Syria, stop smuggling weapons, stop providing logistical support to the militants. He can go to Saudi Arabia and Qatar and urge them to stop financing the terrorists. This is the only thing that can be done with the external part of our problem. But no one outside Syria can handle the inside of this problem.
Sunday Times: So what is your message to Kerry?
President Al-Assad: It is very clear: what I said now. I mean the message not only to Kerry, but to all those who are talking about the Syrian issue. Only the Syrian people can tell the President whether to stay or go. I just say this so as not to waste time, so that the other side can understand what it should focus on.
Sunday Times: How do you assess the role of Britain in the peace process in Syria? Have you had any informal contacts with the British side? What is your reaction to Cameron’s support for the opposition? What would you say if you were sitting next to him now, especially considering that Britain is calling for the arming of the rebels?
President Al-Assad: No contacts between Syria and the UK have been around for a long time. If we want to talk about its role, the role cannot be separated from authority. And we cannot separate the notion of authority from stories of this country. Now I am talking with a British journalist and a British audience and should be frank. For decades, England has repeatedly played in our region a non-constructive role in various issues. You could even say that this has been the case for centuries. I am speaking to you now about perception in our region.
The problem is that the current government with its petty and immature rhetoric only emphasizes these traditions of intimidation and hegemony. I speak frankly. How can we expect the UK to play a positive role when it seeks to militarize the problem? How can she hope that she wants to improve the situation, stabilize it, if her leadership wants to supply weapons to terrorists and is not trying to promote dialogue between the Syrians? This is illogical. I think it works against us and against the interests of the UK itself. This government is naive and confused, it acts in an unrealistic way. If it wants to play a role, it must change its position and act more reasonably and responsibly. We do not expect the Pyro to be a firefighter!
Sunday Times: In 2011, you said that you would not waste your time speaking with the opposition. Have you changed your opinion or opinions lately? Especially considering that your Foreign Minister Moallem stated, being in Russia, that the government is open for negotiations with the armed opposition. Can you clarify?
President Al-Asad: In fact, I did not change my point of view. First, this plan is not for terrorists. He is for everyone who accepts the idea of a Syrian dialogue. So this initiative is not a change of opinion. Secondly, from the very first day of this crisis, almost two years ago, I said that I was ready for dialogue. Nothing changed.
We have a very consistent attitude towards dialogue. Our minister expressed it very clearly. Part of our initiative is that we are ready to negotiate with anyone, including militants who surrender their weapons. We are not going to deal with terrorists who insist on using weapons to intimidate people, kill civilians, attack public buildings and businesses, and destroy the country.
Sunday Times: Mr. President, the world is looking at Syria and sees that the country is collapsing, that at least 70 thousands have been killed and more than 3 million people have left their homes, which is deepening interfaith division. Many people all over the world blame you. What would you say to them? Do you feel guilty about what happened in the country?
President Al-Assad: You called these numbers as if they were just tabular data. Some players use them to advance their political agenda. Unfortunately, this is a reality. Regardless of their accuracy, for us Syrians, there is a real man, or woman, or child behind each of these numbers. When you talk about thousands of victims, we see thousands of families who have lost their loved ones. This pain will last for many years. No one can feel this pain more than we do.
Looking at this problem from a political point of view, we must ask some questions. How to check these numbers? How many foreign militants are there in the country? How many terrorists are among the dead, and how many civilians are innocent women and children?
The situation on the ground makes it almost impossible to obtain accurate answers to these important questions. We know how death toll data was used in the past, how human casualty speculation created the way for foreign intervention. The Libyan government recently admitted that the death toll before the invasion of Libya was exaggerated. When it reached five thousand victims from each side, they talked about tens of thousands.
The British and Americans who were physically in Iraq during the war could not provide the exact number of victims who were killed as a result of their invasion. And suddenly it turns out that the same sources have very accurate statistics about what is happening in Syria! This can only be perceived with irony. I will tell you that these numbers do not exist in reality, but are part of their virtual reality. They want to use them to create a pretext for military intervention, which is called "humanitarian intervention."
Sunday Times: I want to stay a little longer on this issue. Even if this number is exaggerated and not accurate, however, thousands of people were killed. Some of them are militants, but some are civilians. Someone died as a result of the use of artillery or aviation in certain areas. Therefore, even if we do not know the actual number of people killed, who can be blamed for the death of those civilians who died as a result of hostilities?
President Al-Assad: First, we cannot talk about the number of the dead without knowing their names. The people who were killed had names. Secondly, why did they die? Where and how were they killed? Who killed them? Armed gangs, terrorist groups, criminals, kidnappers, army? Who!
Sunday Times: Different.
President Al-Asad: Yes, but it seems to me that you mean that one person is responsible for the situation and for all human sacrifices.
From the first day, the situation in Syria is influenced by military and political factors that are changing rapidly. In such situations, there are catalysts, and there are barriers. The fact that one party is responsible for all the obstacles, and the other for all the catalysts, is absurd.
Too many innocent civilians died, too many citizens suffer. As I said, no one is more in pain than the Syrians. Therefore, we seek a national dialogue.
If you are talking about responsibility, then obviously I have a constitutional obligation to protect Syria and its people from terrorists and radical groups.
Sunday Times: What is the role of al-Qaida and other jihadists? What threats do they pose to the region and to Europe? Are you worried that Syria is turning into a kind of Chechnya? Do you fear for the fate of minorities? Does this remind you of a situation in Iraq?
President al-Assad: The role of al-Qaida in Syria is the same as its role in any other place in this world: murder, beheading, torture, banning children from going to school. Because, as you know, the al-Qaida ideology flourishes where there is ignorance. They are trying to penetrate society with their dark extremist ideas and achieve success.
In Syria, one should not talk about "minorities", this is a very superficial view. Because in the country there is a mixture of religions, confessions, nationalities and ideologies, which together constitute a homogeneous mixture. Percentages do not matter. We have to worry about the majority of moderate Syrians, which may become a minority if we do not fight extremism. At this point, Syria will cease to exist.
If you are worried about Syria, then you should know that we are the last stronghold of religious tolerance in the region. If you are concerned about the Middle East, then the whole world should strive for its stability. This is reality as we see it.
Sunday Times: What is the threat now coming from al Qaeda?
President Al-Assad: Ideological threats are stronger than assassinations. The killings, of course, are terrible, but the ideology is even more dangerous, and we have repeatedly warned about this many years before the crisis. We have dealt with such ideologies since the end of the seventies, and were the first in the region to join the fight against terrorists who were disguised by Islam. We constantly talked about this, especially in the last decade, during the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The West only reacts to this or that situation, but does not act to prevent the true threat. We must fight, first of all, with ideology. Without this, the war on terror will lead nowhere. It will only get worse. This is a threat not only to Syria, but to the entire region.
Sunday Times: US officials have recently said that the US decision not to arm the rebels could be revised. They involve the direct arming of the rebels, the supply of vehicles to them, and the training of personnel. If this happens, what will be the consequences for Syria and the region, in your opinion? How do you intend to counter this?
President Al-Asad: You know that in every crime there is not only a victim and a criminal. There are accomplices who support the criminal, moral or logistical.
I have said many times that Syria is on the line of a geographical, political, social and ideological rift. Playing with this fault line will have serious repercussions throughout the Middle East.
Has the situation in Libya, Mali, Tunisia, and Egypt become better? Any intervention will not bring improvements. It will only worsen the situation. Europe, the United States and other states will have to pay for instability in this region sooner or later, and they should foresee this.
Sunday Times: What can you say to Israel after its air strikes on Syria? Will you answer? How will you respond to future attacks from Israel, especially since he said he could do it again?
President Al-Assad: Syria responds to such actions every time, but in its own way. Not the principle of "tooth for tooth." We answered, and only the Israeli side knows what we mean.
Sunday Times: Can you explain?
President Al-Asad: Yes. Retribution does not necessarily mean missiles on a rocket or bullets on a bullet. Our response is not required to be public. But Israel knows what I mean.
Sunday Times: Can you talk about it?
President Al-Asad: We do not report this.
Sunday Times: I met a seven year old boy in Jordan.
President al-Assad: Syrian boy?
Sunday Times: Yes, by a Syrian boy who lost an arm and a leg as a result of a rocket attack in the village of Herak. Five children in his family were killed by this explosion. You, as a father, what can you say about this boy? Why did so many innocent civilians die as a result of air strikes, shelling of the army, and sometimes the actions of Shabiha?
President Al-Assad: What is his name?
Sunday Times: I have his name. I can provide it later.
President Al-Assad: As I said, each victim of this crisis has a name and belongs to a family. Like, for example, the five-year-old Saber, who lost a leg at the time when he had breakfast with his family. His mother and all his relatives were killed. Like four-year-old Ryan, in whose eyes his two brothers were killed for what, that they went to the rally. None of these victims has any political affiliation. Children are the most vulnerable in any society. Unfortunately, they often pay a high price in any conflict.
As a father, I know that it’s bad when children suffer, it’s even worse to lose a child. Any family can face this. Whenever there are conflicts, these tragic stories appear that are painful for any society. This is for us the most important, the most powerful incentive to fight terrorism. Genuine humanists who feel our pain, who are worried about our children and grieving our losses, should demand from their governments that they stop smuggling weapons, supporting terrorists, supplying militants with any military cargo from any country.
Sunday Times: Mr. President, when you are in bed at night and hear the bombings in Damascus, do you, like many other Syrians, worry about the safety of your family? Do you fear that a moment may come when your own security will be threatened?
President Al-Asad: I see it completely differently. Can someone be safe or secure his family if the country is in danger? Not really! If your country is not safe, then you cannot be safe.
Instead of worrying about myself and my family, I should be concerned about the fate of every citizen and every family in the country.
Sunday Times: You are aware of Syria’s international concern about chemical weapons. Is it true that your army never uses it as a last resort against your opponents? It is assumed that the substances were transferred several times, and if so, why? Do you share the fears of the world community that chemical weapons may fall into the hands of Islamists? After all, this is the worst that could happen?
President Al-Assad: Everything that is said in the media, all official rhetoric regarding the Syrian chemical weapons is speculation. We will never discuss our weapons with anyone. What the world should be concerned about is that chemical materials do not fall into the hands of terrorists. Video materials have already been broadcast, in which terrorists tested toxic substances on animals and threatened to use them against the Syrian people, and people would die the same way. We shared this video with other countries. This is what the world community should focus on, rather than spending efforts on trying to use Syrian chemical weapons to justify any intervention in Syria.
Sunday Times: I do not ask if they are safe or not. Is there any fear that someone might reach them?
President Al-Asad: This is ambiguity. No country will talk about their capabilities.
Sunday Times: What is the role of Hezbollah, Iran and Russia in the conduct of hostilities on the ground? Do you know about Hezbollah fighters in Syria and what they do? What weapons do your allies supply - Iran and Russia? What support do they provide?
President Al-Assad: Russia's position on arms transfers is very clear. Russia supplies Syria with defensive means in accordance with international law. Hezbollah, Iran and Russia support Syria in its fight against terrorism.
Russia's position is very constructive. The role of Iran is very favorable. Hezbollah’s role is to defend Lebanon, not Syria. We are a country in which 23 has a million people, with a powerful army and professional police. We do not need foreign soldiers to protect our state.
What we should ask is the role of other countries - Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France, Great Britain, the United States - which directly or indirectly support terrorism in Syria, militarily or politically.
Sunday Times: Mr. President, I would like to ask you about your personal position. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently said that Al-Akhdar Al-Ibrahimi complained about the lack of flexibility on the part of your government, about what you say no. Don't you think you never say yes? Can you comment on the opinion that there can be no peace settlement while you remain President?
President Al-Asad: Do not expect a politician to say only “yes” or “no” in absolute terms. These are not multiple choice questions where you need to select the correct answer. Our vision of the situation is very clear. We have a plan, and anyone who wants to do business with us can follow our plan. This is said very clearly so as not to waste time.
The Western media is personalizing the problem in Syria. It is assumed that the whole conflict goes around the President and his future. Assuming that this argument is true, then my departure would cease hostilities. But it is obvious that this is absurd. This is evidenced by recent precedents in Libya, Yemen and Egypt.
They are trying to evade the essence of the issue, which is dialogue, reform and the fight against terrorism. After their actions, chaos, destruction and disaster always remained in our region. How can they justify any intervention in the future? They will not be able to.
Therefore, they focus on accusations against the President and insist on his leaving, sowing doubt in his authority, discussing whether he is moving away from reality or not. Thus, the President is the center of attention.
Sunday Times: Some foreign officials have called for you to be brought to the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Are you afraid of prosecution by the ICC or the possibility of a future trial in Syria?
President Al-Asad: Whenever a problem is raised in the UN, the question of trust arises. We know that after the collapse of the Soviet Union over the past twenty years, the UN and all its organizations have been victims of hegemony, instead of being bastions of justice. They became politicized tools to sow instability and attack sovereign countries. Although this is a violation of the UN Charter.
So the question now is whether they intend to bring to justice the American and British leaders who attacked Iraq in the 2003 year and claimed more than half a million lives? Not to mention the number of orphans, the disabled, the broken destinies of the Iraqis? Are they ready to consider cases against American, British and French politicians who attacked Libya last year, violating the UN resolution, as a result of which many lives were also cut short? The answer is clear - they are not going to do that.
You know that sending mercenaries to any country is a war crime, in accordance with the principles of Nuremberg and in accordance with the UN Charter. Are they going to bring Erdogan to this court for sending mercenaries? Will they be judged for the same leaders of Saudi Arabia and Qatar? Are there answers to these questions and can we talk about trust in these organizations?
My answer is very brief: when people defend their country, they do not take into account any threats.
Sunday Times: If you could turn the clock back two years, would you do it differently? Are there things you could do differently? What mistakes do you think were made, and what would you change?
President Al-Asad: You can ask this question to the President only if he is solely responsible for everything that happens. In our case, we know that there are a lot of external players. So you should ask this question to each of them. You should ask Erdogan if he would send terrorists to kill Syrians and provide them with material and technical support? You should ask the leadership of Qatar and Saudi Arabia if they would finance al Qaeda terrorists or any other criminal organization to kill the Syrians? The same question should be asked to European and American officials: would they have created a political cover for those who kill innocent Syrian citizens?
We made two decisions. First, to engage in dialogue, and secondly, to fight terrorism. If you ask any Syrian, would he say “no” to dialogue and “yes” to terrorism? I do not think that any sane person would say that.
Looking back, I think: we started with a dialogue and we will continue the dialogue. Looking back, I say: we have fought against terrorism and will continue to fight terrorism.
Sunday Times: Have you ever thought about life in exile? Would you go abroad if it would increase the chances for peace in Syria?
President Al-Asad: Again, this is not about the President. I do not think that a citizen and a patriot will think about living outside their country.
Sunday Times: Will you ever leave the country?
President Al-Asad: No. A patriot will not think about living abroad. I am a patriot, like any other Syrian.
Sunday Times: How did you perceive the explosion last summer, as a result of which your military leaders were killed, including your relative?
President Al-Asad: You mentioned my relative, but this is not a family affair. When it comes to killing a senior figure, this is a national affair. Such crimes will make us more determined in the fight against terrorism. In such a situation, you need to think not about your feelings, but about your actions.
Sunday Times: At the end of our conversation, Mr. President, I would like to ask about my colleague, Mary Colvin, who was killed in the shelling of the opposition media center in Bab-Amr 22 last February. Was he focused, as some employees of American and British television channels suggest? Or was she just unlucky? Have you heard of her death at that time, and if so, what was your reaction?
President Al-Asad: Of course, I heard about this story. It was reported by the media. When a journalist is in conflict zones, as you are now, to tell the world about what is happening, this is a very brave act. Every decent person, every official, every state should support journalists working in such conditions, because their work helps shed light on events and expose disinformation.
Unfortunately, in most conflicts, journalists pay the highest price. Always regrettable when a journalist was killed. They are not killed for being on one side or the other, but for wanting to tell the truth. There are also media outlets that are at war with Syria and do not want the truth to become known to the outside world.
14 Syrian journalists have been killed since the beginning of the crisis. Not all of them died at the battle sites. Some were killed returning home after work. Some were kidnapped and tortured, after which they were killed. There are those who are missing. Several Syrian TV channels were attacked by terrorists and their bombs. Currently, there is a ban on broadcasting Syrian TV channels on European satellite systems. It is also well known that the rebels use journalists for their own selfish interests. For example, there was a case with a British journalist who managed to escape.
Sunday Times: Alex Thompson?
President Al-Asad: Yes. He fell into the trap of terrorists who wanted to use him to accuse the Syrian army of his death. That is why it is important to enter the country legally and have a visa. But Mary Colvin didn’t have her, and we don’t know why. If you entered illegally, you cannot expect the state to be responsible for you. Contrary to popular belief, from the very beginning of the crisis, hundreds of journalists from around the world, including you, received visas to Syria. Journalists are free to report on what is happening, no one interferes with their work and puts no obstacles in their way.