Auteur: Andrew Rettman
BRUSSELS - Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has warned Western countries that their support for "terrorists" in the civil war will see them "pay the price sooner or later."
Al-Assad spoke in a rare interview with British newspaper The Sunday Times at the weekend (3 March), after the EU last week agreed to send "non-lethal" aid to rebels.
Details of what the assistance will remain vague.
But referring to suicide attacks in Syrian cities in recent months and to 9/11 in the US in 2001, Al-Assad noted that: "The intelligence, communication and financial assistance being provided is very lethal. The events of 11 September were not committed by lethal aid. It was the application of non-lethal technology and training which caused the atrocities."
Turning to British calls to arm the rebels in future, he added: "How can we expect to ask Britain to play a [constructive] role while it is determined to militarise the problem?"
He accused Western allies in the region of already sending weapons.
"If anyone wants to 'genuinely' - I stress the word genuinely - help Syria and help the cessation of violence in our country, he can do only one thing; he can go to Turkey and sit with [Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan and tell to him stop smuggling terrorists into Syria, stop sending armaments, stop providing logistical support to those terrorists. He can go to Saudi Arabia and Qatar and tell them stop financing the terrorists in Syria," he said.
He also said that Western media has painted a crude picture of who the rebels really are.
He noted that the unrest began with a "spontaneous" Syrian movement back in early 2011. But he described the current rebel forces as ranging from "petty criminals, drug dealers, groups that are killing and kidnapping just for money to mercenaries and [Islamic] militants."
He added that European countries' colonial history and their role in the Iraq invasion in 2003 has eroded their credibility.
"The legacy of their interventions in our region have been chaos, destruction and disaster. So, how can they justify any future intervention? They cannot," he said.
He also warned that: "Syria lies at the fault line [in the Middle East] geographically, politically, socially and ideologically. So, playing with this fault line will have serious repercussions all over the Middle East … Any intervention will not make things better; it will only make them worse. Europe and the United States and others are going to pay the price sooner or later with the instability in this region."
When the Sunday Times confronted him with reports of regime slaughter of civilians, he said Western media is manipulating facts to make him look bad.
"Nobody can feel this pain [of civilian deaths] more than us … As a father of young children, I know the meaning of having a child harmed by something," Al-Assad said.
Reacting to his comments, the British foreign minister, William Hague, told the BBC also on Sunday that: "This will go down as one of the most delusional interviews that any national leader has given in modern times."
He refused to rule out sending arms despite the risk of them "falling into the wrong hands."
"These things are a balance of risk. You can reach consensus eventually when humanitarian need is so great and the loss of life is so great that you have to do something new to save lives. That's why I don't rule it out in the future," he said.
Meanwhile, a senior commander of the main rebel group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), brigadier general Selim Idriss, is due in Brussels this week to give his version of events.
The visit was arranged by the Liberal group in the EU parliament after one of its officials, Koert Debeuf, visited the front line in Syria in January.
Debeuf's report on the visit, published in EUobserver, bore witness to Al-Assad forces shelling and bombing civilian areas while the FSA fought back with home-made bombs.
Debeuf also reported that Islamist groups, such as the Jabhat al Nusra, are gaining in popularity in part because they are better equipped than the secularist FSA.
He added that EU and UN humanitarian aid is currently being channeled into Al-Assad-controlled areas only, further undermining the FSA, while doing nothing for the hundreds of thousands for refugees in camps in FSA-controlled territories.