89.1 WEMU

Syrian Official: Army Is Protecting Syrian People From Armed Groups

Feb 24, 2012
Originally published on February 24, 2012 6:36 pm

The charge d'affaires of the Syrian Embassy in Washington says all the reports coming out of Syria are "absolutely wrong."

Zouheir Jabbour told All Things Considered's Melissa Block that even the reports issued by the United Nations and the Arab League are wrong.

"In the time of computers, you can fabricate whatever you like and go to Al Jazeera and go to Al Arabiya and you can see all that fabrication," Jabbour said.

During a 20 minute interview, Melissa pressed Jabbour. By all accounts, the Syrian army has embarked on a deadly attack on its own people. The U.N. estimates that last year alone 5,400 people were killed. And in a report by the U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a panel said it had evidence that that top Syrian officials "bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations." In another report this month, Human Rights Watch found that security forces controlled by President Bashar Assad arrested, tortured and killed children as part of the crackdown.

"The Syrian army is a national army," said Jabbour. "It's an army for all the Syrians and you know what the Syrian army is doing is just protecting the Syrian people from the brutality and from the criminality of the armed groups supported by regional Arab or non-Arab foreign states and nations."

Jabbour also said that journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were "absolutely not" killed "by Syrian armies."

Jabbour said the picture we are getting from Syria is wrong and that Assad would step down "when the Syrian people tell Assad step aside."

In the interview, he said the truth is that most Syrians support Assad and Jabbour seemed to challenge journalists to report the truth.

Colvin, who wrote for the Sunday Times in Britain, was in Homs on a trip that wasn't sanctioned by the Syrian government. She filed her last piece for the paper on Feb. 19. In it, she paints a harrowing picture of an army pounding Homs mercilessly.

"The scale of human tragedy in the city is immense. The inhabitants are living in terror," she wrote. In Homs, at least, she reported that civilians were being killed by their government.

Note, we'll add audio of the as-aired interview with Jabbour to this post a little later on tonight.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Nearly one year of brutal fighting in Syria, perhaps 7,000 people killed. And today, the international community issued a warning to the regime of Bashir al-Assad. At a meeting in Tunis, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: You will pay a heavy cost for ignoring the will of the international community and violating the human rights of your people. The Saudi foreign minister went further. He said arming the Syrian opposition is an excellent idea.

Earlier today, I spoke with Syria's charge d'affaires here in Washington, Zouheir Jabbour. I asked him to respond to Secretary Clinton's remarks that the Assad regime's escalating violence is a grave violation of universal human rights.

ZOUHEIR JABBOUR: We are following the armed groups who are terrorizing and intimidating the Syrian people. And, as you heard also, that all Al-Qaida has penetrated and infiltrated into Syria. And you know the bombings have been took place in Damascus and in (unintelligible).

BLOCK: Mr. Jabbour, there was a United Nations panel this week that laid the bulk of the blame for the atrocities in Syria right now squarely on the Assad regime. It said that the violations amount to crimes against humanity. And here are some of the things they mentioned: shooting at unarmed protesters, killing soldiers who refuse to obey orders, attacking civilian neighborhoods with indiscriminate tank and machine gun fire, and torturing wounded protesters in hospitals. Are those untrue?

JABBOUR: Absolutely wrong. And if you see the report of the human rights commissioner, when it was issued, the witnesses, they were from the what's called Free Syrian Army, from some criminals from the other people who were in jail. These were the people who took their witness. But they didn't even meet any governmental officials.

BLOCK: This U.N. report, Mr. Jabbour, was based on hundreds of interviews, also photographs, video recordings, satellite imagery. You're saying completely untrue, no basis...

JABBOUR: I'm sorry, in the time of computer you can fabricate and falsify whatever you like and go to Al Jazeera and go to Al Arabiya, and you can see all the fabrication and this unprecedented campaign against Syria.

BLOCK: Mr. Jabbour, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has called the killing of the two Western journalists on Wednesday - Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik - he's called that murder. Would do you say?

JABBOUR: What's the benefit we get from killing them? How do we know that they are journalists? We don't know? Even we don't know that they are on our ground, on the Syrian territories. Because they enter illegally there, we didn't see them even. So he can say, of course, he can say whatever he likes. But this is absolutely fabricated and un-based, you know, information.

BLOCK: Do you deny that they were killed by Syrian shells?

JABBOUR: Absolutely. Absolutely not by Syrian army.

BLOCK: Mr. Jabbour, I was watching excruciatingly painful video of a father in Homs in this besieged neighborhood of Baba Amr, cradling the body of his dead two-year-old son. And he asks on camera, he asks what has this child done to harm anyone. Oh, world. Oh humanity. Look, how can this child do anything to them? Have you seen that video?

JABBOUR: You know, as I told you, you can fabricate and you can make anything you like - anything. Just one thing I want to ask you in response to your question: Did you see the armed groups when they attacked the hospitals in Syria? Did you hear about the armed groups who assassinated a very highly-efficient professor in medicine, graduated from Paris, in Syria? Nobody tells about that.

BLOCK: I'm curious if you seen the video of the father that I mentioned?

JABBOUR: No, I didn't see.

BLOCK: You haven't seen it. What would you say to that father who - his son has been killed by Syrian shells?

JABBOUR: Well, I can make any videotape. I have many videotapes also, which show the opposite.

BLOCK: Are you doubting that this father was cradling his dead son?

JABBOUR: Yes. Yes, for sure I'm doubting.

BLOCK: You do not see this boy was killed...

JABBOUR: No, it's not true. Absolutely it's not true. The Syrian army is a national army. It's an army for all the Syrians. And you know what the National Syrian Army is doing just is protecting the Syrian people from the brutality and from the criminality of the armed groups supported by regional Arab or non-Arab and foreign states, nations.

BLOCK: Mr. Jabbour, Syria has become largely an international pariah state. If you look at the U.S. sanctions...

JABBOUR: (inaudible)

BLOCK: It's not just Western countries. It's also the Arab League that says Bashar al-Assad must go. Is the Syrian government on the wrong side of history here?

JABBOUR: Who must say to the president, you must go? The only legitimate force is the Syrian people. When the Syrian people say to President Assad: step aside, he will step aside.

BLOCK: And many Syrian people have been saying exactly that for almost a year now.

JABBOUR: Not many. You know...

BLOCK: Not many?

JABBOUR: ...you didn't see the demonstrations supporting the Assad. Have you seen them?

BLOCK: I have seen some, yes.

JABBOUR: You know, about 300 or 400 from the opposition - or they are called the opposition - they go for a demonstration. All the media show them on the TV or on YouTube. But hundreds of thousands of people who are supporting Syria and supporting the regime in Syria, they don't show them.

BLOCK: If this is such a tiny segment of Syrian society that is opposed to the Assad regime, as you seem to be saying, why has it taken a year of fighting, thousands of people killed to put this down?

JABBOUR: Because of the support of the other countries for the armed groups in Syria. If you want to be fair, if you want to do for the sake of the Syrian people, you have to call for dialogue between the opposition, between the government, and to support the peaceful solution. And the only way is through dialogue and not through armed forces and not through violence.

BLOCK: Zouheir Jabbour is charge d'affaires with the Syrian Embassy here in Washington, D.C.

Thank you very much.

JABBOUR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.