CNN: Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement are risking their future ties with Syria by supporting embattled Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad now, the head of a leading Syrian opposition group says.
From Rima Maktabi, CNN
Paris (CNN) — Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement are risking their future ties with Syria by supporting embattled Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad now, the head of a leading Syrian opposition group says.
Burhan Ghalioun, the chairman of the Syrian National Council, told CNN in an interview airing Tuesday that Iran is “participating in suppressing the Syrian people” by backing al-Assad, whose family’s 40-year regime has been a longtime Iranian ally. He also warned that the crackdown could lead to international military intervention.
“I hope that Iranians realize the importance of not compromising the Syrian-Iranian relationship by defending a regime whose own people clearly reject it and has become a regime of torture to its own people,” Ghalioun said. Tehran must understand “that this is the last chance to avoid an unwanted fate to the Syrian-Iranian relationship,” he said.
As for Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that was allied with Syria during the years that Damascus dominated its smaller neighbor, Ghalioun said, “The Syrian people stood completely by Hezbollah once. But today, they are surprised that Hezbollah did not return the favor and support the Syrian’s people struggle for freedom.”
The United Nations estimates more than 4,000 people have been killed in Syria since February, when al-Assad began attempting to put down anti-government protests with police and troops. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 34 civilians died in Homs, the scene of the heaviest recent fighting, on Monday.
CNN is unable to verify the reports because Syrian officials have restricted access to the country by reporters.
Syrian officials say they are battling “armed terrorist gangs” that prey on civilians. But the crackdown has led to widespread criticism throughout the region and economic sanctions by the Arab League and neighboring Turkey.
Monday, Syria agreed to Arab League demands that it allow observers into the country — but on the condition that the league immediately drop sanctions and agree to amendments that league officials have previously rejected.
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told reporters that Syria is committed to reforms to end the crisis, pointing to decisions to pull back some troops and release some prisoners as evidence.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Arabi told CNN that the group’s foreign ministers will have to consider the proposal before any decisions are made — but he added, “The Syrians’ acceptance of the protocol does not mean that we will suspend the sanctions.”
Syria is among the Middle Eastern and North African countries wracked by the “Arab Spring” demonstrations that arose after the revolt that toppled Tunisia’s longtime strongman in January. Subsequent uprisings toppled two of the region’s longtime autocrats, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, while Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh has signed an agreement to step down by February in the face of widespread unrest there.
Libya’s revolt was backed by NATO airstrikes, authorized under a U.N. mandate to protect civilians from reprisals by government troops. Ghalioun told CNN that international humanitarian intervention may be needed to protect Syrians from the ongoing clampdown, “even if we have to use some force.”
“The topic of foreign military intervention is a dangerous and critical topic and should be taken seriously,” Ghalioun said. “But unfortunately, this regime is pushing people to seek foreign military intervention. Some are demanding foreign military intervention without knowing the consequences.”