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Ali Hashem: Assad regime has been backed in a corner and will fight to bitter end

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

Now joining us from Lebanon to discuss the situation in Syria and the conflict as it spills into Lebanon is Ali Hashem. Ali is the chief correspondent for Al Mayadeen, a new news network based in Beirut—will be on satellite TV across the Middle East. Thanks for joining us, Ali.


JAY: So just to remind people, Ali used to be a correspondent at Al Jazeera and left. And you can watch our stories, which we’ll post below here about why he left Al Jazeera. But today we’re going to focus on his new role as chief correspondent. And one of the areas, of course, he’s concerned with is Syria, and then particularly how the Syria conflict has been spilling into Lebanon.

So, Ali, let’s start. First of all, what do we know of the massacres that have taken place recently in Syria, one where more than 100 people were killed? And we’re told many of them were children, killed execution style. And then there’s a new discovery today. The United Nations announced in eastern Syria they found 13 people bound and executed. And according to most Western governments and the UN, they are clearly blaming the Assad regime for the massacre, and the Assad regime is saying it wasn’t them. What so far can you make of all this?

HASHEM: Actually, regarding what’s going on in Syria, it’s kind of chaos. No one knows really what’s going on. As you said, there are some, you know, accusations for the regime that they did the massacre. At the same time, the regime is accusing the opposition of committing the massacre. What’s really clear, according to the United Nations, is that those people were killed with cold blood, and they were killed with knives and guns from very close distance, and a few group of them were killed by the bombardment that was done by the regime’s army.

To be frank, you know, today you wouldn’t be able to get a piece of news from Syria that’s 100 percent accurate. Everyone is trying to show that he or the party he’s representing is the right side. The regime will say that those people who were killed in [hole] in Homs were Shia and they were Alawites; at the same time, the opposition will say that these people are Sunnis; so that both of them will show that, you know, they have no interest in killing those people.

But to go more and to zoom more into what happened, it’s a bloody massacre that is condemned by everyone, a massacre that killed—a lot of children were killed in it. It’s—I think more than 45 children were killed. At the same time, after this massacre, another massacre was committed in another village, which is maybe a few kilometers away from [‘hole]. So what we are right now facing in Syria, it’s not anymore a fight between a regime and an opposition. It’s kind of an ethnic or sectarian cleansing that is wiping big families and big, you know, villages around the country.

JAY: Now, one of the stories that—it’s been reported through some of the opposition activists that were interviewed by one of the news organizations over Skype. The report was that a senior military officer was killed by the opposition, and then thugs that support the regime sort of took revenge and went into the village and committed these executions of the civilians. Do you—any sense of the veracity of that?

HASHEM: Actually, I can neither, you know, say this happened or didn’t happen, you know, I can’t, and on both sides, because no one knows really what happened. Yeah, it’s possible both stories might be right. I can say that if it’s actually precisely regarding the regime, when you say the thugs related to the regime, I don’t know if there are thugs uncontrolled by the regime or they are thugs, you know, who are pro-regime but are not controlled by the army and the government over there. It’s kind of a lost story, and you can’t really go there and bring the accurate piece of news you want.

At the same time, what you are saying about, you know, the thugs of the regime going there and killing these people, also the regime is saying about—is talking about Tunisians and Libyans who went into this village and other villages and killed. But I can’t believe any of those stories, and I’m actually afraid that there are—maybe there is a third party right now in Syria that is really interested in igniting the fight over there and turning the crisis into a real sectarian war and taking things toward sectarian cleansing around the Syrian territories.

JAY: And who would that third party be? What kind of forces might it represent?

HASHEM: You know, many, many forces right now have an interest in keeping the situation in Syria as it is. You know, right now, Syria before the crisis was playing a great role in the war against Israel in the region. They were backing Hezbollah, they were backing Hamas and the resistances in several places. Maybe some people might accuse Israel of doing some things. But, you know, I can—I’m just right now speculating and I can’t be giving facts at this time. I’m just saying that this is kind of analysis. Many other Arab states might be interested in keeping the situation in Syria as it is. So no one really knows what—who is doing what and who is killing who in Syria.

JAY: But is there any doubt that the Syrian regime is responsible for many atrocities? I say that also adding we know that the opposition—sections of the armed opposition have been involved in sectarian, you know, killings as well. But the Syrian government’s claiming their hands are clean. I mean, what do you make of that claim?

HASHEM: It’s obvious that the regime did a lot of atrocities and there are many, many crimes that were done by the regime in several places, or at least by people connected by the regime or by thugs who are pro-regime. This can’t be even—you know, you can’t even think about refuting such claims, because I think these are confirmed. But, you know, when you talk about the regime’s atrocities in several areas, it’s clear that also the regime in other areas was trying, you know, as much as they can to, you know, stop the revolution from getting bigger and bigger.

Now, there were a lot of things said about the role of exaggerating what was going on in Syria. And the Syrian regime tried through the pro—you know, the media, the state-run media or the state-controlled media, to show that they are not responsible for several crimes that were committed in the country, and they tried to show these by video or by, you know, some documents. So, yeah, you know, no one can deny that this happened during the past months of the Syrian revolution.

JAY: Now, the Kofi Annan plan, is there any hope for it, or is it finished? This regime seems to be—is going to fight to the bitter end.

HASHEM: To the regime, when you’re saying the regime is fighting to the end, they have no other choice other than fighting till the end, because today any step back by this regime means that the regime will fall. To be frank, the Syrian opposition showed to be really stronger than other oppositions, though they are not united and they are divided. But they were able to do a lot of gains in the country. They were able to control several regions. I can give from my experience, from my former experience in Libya. I remember the Libyan rebels, they weren’t able to do what the Syrians are doing. They were—at the time we were in Libya, they were waiting the strikes by the NATO to be able to jump from one area to another. You are talking about a Syrian opposition and Syrian, you know, militants who are able to take control of several cities and several villages without the presence of an aerial cover. So it seems the Syrian opposition’s militants are strong enough, and they are having and receiving good and big amount of weapons so that they are able to push the regime into the corner and tell the regime that you have no other choice: either you fight, either you fall.

JAY: And they’re doing this primarily with the backing of Saudi Arabia.

HASHEM: It’s not only Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is one of those who are backing the revolution in Syria, but you have also the Qatari support, you have European support, you have the American supports, you know, and it might differ from country to another. Maybe the Qataris and the Saudis are giving the money, the Europeans are giving the political support, the Americans might be doing other strategical things. So there is a big support given to this revolution, to these militants who are fighting right now in Syria, and after 18 months, around 18 months, or less, maybe, of the fighting in Syria, they are able to control several areas. Today if you go to Homs, Homs, there are several cities in Homs or villages that are controlled by the rebels. Also if you go to Idlib, if you go to Hama, if you go to the stronghold of the regime in Aleppo or in Damascus, there are several alleys and neighborhoods that are controlled by the revolutionaries. So they were able in the past year and a few months to do something. And that’s why today the regime is fighting to the last—.

JAY: Kofi Annan has called for the opposition to stop armed struggle and pursue peaceful mass protest. He didn’t quite come out and say it, but the media is interpreting that’s what he’s saying, that this should be—lower the level of the violence. I mean, is there any sense the opposition might do this? And is there any sense the Kofi Annan plan’s going anywhere?

HASHEM: Actually, when we are talking about the opposition, we have several oppositions. So today if Kofi Annan was able to convince one party in the opposition to lay arms, or at least, you know, to try to calm down things, other parties in the opposition wouldn’t, because today when you are talking about the Syrian opposition of the [incompr.] and the Free Syrian Army or those deserters of the army who have, you know, several thousand, at the same time you have some people who are not under the FSA and they are fighting, you know, for themselves. Others are affiliated to some jihadist groups who were able to infiltrate to Syria. Others were inside Syria.

Arms today in Syria is over the—it’s like [incompr.] I can say. Everyone have arms, everyone can fight, everyone, you know, have the power. I was in Damascus, like, two or three weeks ago, and I had a lot of, you know, remarks about what I saw. Damascus is not the city I used to know before. Everyone is afraid over there because they know that everyone have arms and everyone is ready to go to the streets at night and shoot and make some—. You know. So this country today is a full chaos, as a whole chaos.

JAY: Right. And just quickly, in terms of what—the spillover into Lebanon, there was fighting taking place between pro-and anti-Assad forces. To what extent is that continuing? And how serious is this?

HASHEM: It’s [incompr.] in Lebanon right now for the clashes in Tripoli and also for the classes that took place in Beirut. In Tripoli there was something going on over there that was really threatening the national security, and we were on the verge of going towards a civil war in this country, at least in north Lebanon. North Lebanon right now is a kind of stronghold for the jihadists. Everyone over there who knows Tripoli and knows the region knows that those who control the region over there are the jihadists. They have their weapons, and they’re strong enough, and they are doing whatever they can to help the Syrian militants and the revolution inside.

One of the problems that led to the fight in the north was the arrest of a man who the Lebanese government accused of taking part in supporting the Syrian revolution. At the same time, you know, you have a lot of differences between the Alawite minority in Tripoli and the Sunni majority over there, though the neighborhoods are only separated by a street. And the irony is that the street is called Syria Road. So this Syria Road is the only road that, you know, is between the two neighborhoods, the Alawite and the Sunni, and they were fighting along this whole road and from area to area, and each one was trying to end the other party. It was for sure a spill-out from Syria, because the situation in Syria for sure is being reflected in Lebanon in several aspects of life other than the security side, other than the political side, even on the economic side. The whole country is kind is connected to what’s going on in Syria.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Ali. And Ali will be joining us fairly regularly on The Real News Network as he conducts his new job as chief correspondent for Al Mayadeen. And thanks for joining us, Ali.

HASHEM: You’re welcome.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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