Karim Talbi, AFP
Last updated: 5 October, 2011

Syrian opposition warns of violence unless world acts

If the world does not support the revolt against Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime it risks seeing more of his opponents turn to violence, the head of Syria’s newly-united opposition said Wednesday.

In an interview with AFP at his Paris home, Burhan Ghalioun, president of the Syrian National Council (SNC), expressed bitter disappointment that China and Russia vetoed a draft UN resolution targeting Assad’s government.

“Supporting Bashar al-Assad in his militarist and fascist project will not encourage the Syrian people to stick to a peaceful revolution,” he warned.

“This Russian policy that blocks any attempt to condemn violence flies in the face of everything they have said. I don’t understand the Russians.”

Of Moscow’s decision to block a European text that would have opened the way for international action to halt Assad’s repression of pro-democratic protests, Ghalioun said: “They are truly encouraging violence.”

The seven-month old Syrian revolution, unlike the parallel movement in Libya, has been largely peaceful, with unarmed crowds confronting regime forces, but recently there have been increasing reports of violence.

Ghalioun, who moved to Paris in 1978 and teaches sociology in a Paris university, said he feared his homeland was sliding towards civil war.

“There are excesses because of the violent and militarist policy of the regime,” he said, confirming that there have been isolated armed clashes between loyalist troops and deserting soldiers still bearing arms.

On Tuesday, after nearly six months of negotiations, nine of 15 Security Council members voted for a text, drawn up by France with Britain, Germany and Portugal, calling for “targeted measures” against Damascus.

It urged action if Assad does not halt attacks on demonstrators, which the UN says have left at least 2,700 dead.

As permanent members of the council, Russia and China used their veto to quash the resolution. South Africa, India, Brazil and Lebanon abstained.

“To avoid the slide towards violence, the international community needs to act differently and realise what the risks and the dangers are at this moment in history,” Ghalioun said.

“I think the international community has not yet lived up to its responsibilities,” the Paris-based academic said.

Despite vetoing the proposed resolution — a decision roundly condemned in Western capitals — Assad’s main foreign ally Russia said Wednesday it would host members of the SNC and the domestic opposition in Moscow this month.

The Kremlin’s decision was announced after Ghalioun had spoken to AFP, but during the interview he said he would welcome such an invitation.

But he warned the opposition would not be gulled into entering negotiations with Assad, whom he said had lost all legitimacy as a leader since March, when his forces launched a brutal crackdown on anti-regime rallies.

“All dialogue with Assad is excluded. He is seen in Syria as ‘killer number one’ and the massacre is continuing. Any political solution will need talks, but not with killers,” Ghalioun said.

“We hope that in the army, in the administration, there are reasonable people who understand that the suicidal policies of the current chain of command and its gang is leading the country to ruin,” he said.

On Sunday, Ghalioun had met other Syrian opposition figures in Istanbul and announced that the SNC would now unite all the major known factions opposing Assad’s rule, both inside and outside Syria.

The new united front includes representatives of the popular local committees organising street protests inside Syria, banned Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood and various political factions.

“The SNC was set up to avoid international intervention,” Ghalioun said Wednesday. “No country, no power, is talking about foreign intervention. What we want is the protection of Syrian civilians.

“We’re asking the international community to offer us a plan to protect Syrian civilians, but we reject the idea of a Libyan-style intervention,” he said, referring to this year’s NATO bombing of Moamer Kadhafi’s regime.

“Protecting civilians doesn’t necessarily mean military intervention. If the international community takes a unified and strong position, in agreement with the Arab community, we can force the regime to back down.”

Ghalioun called for the organisation of an “international conference on Syria, with the great powers, the Arab countries and also the Russians, who still have this unacceptable position.”