The Daily Telegraph reports: The most senior politician to defect from the Bashar al-Assad’s regime has revealed that the President repeatedly rejected calls by his own government for a political compromise, in favour of all-out war.
In his first full interview with a Western newspaper since he fled to Jordan in August, Riyad Hijab, the former prime minister, told The Daily Telegraph that he and other senior regime figures pleaded with Mr Assad to negotiate with the Syrian opposition.
One week before his defection, Mr Hijab, the vice-president, the parliamentary speaker and the deputy head of the Baath party together held a private meeting with Mr Assad.
“We told Bashar he needed to find a political solution to the crisis,” he said. “We said, ‘These are our people that we are killing.’
“We suggested that we work with Friends of Syria group, but he categorically refused to stop the operations or to negotiate.”
Mr Hijab referred to the war waged against the Muslim Brotherhood by Mr Assad’s father, Hafez, which led to the deaths of up to 10,000 people in an assault on the city of Hama.
“Bashar really thinks that he can settle this militarily,” he said.
“He is trying to replicate his father’s fight in the 1980s.” Mr Hijab was speaking as key anti-regime figures gathered in the Qatari capital Doha to replace the fractured opposition Syrian National Council with a new government-in-exile. Once formed, the new Council would seek to gain formal international recognition, and, crucially, better weapons.
Mr Hijab said he rejected an offer to be part of the US-backed proposal, promising to be a “soldier in this revolution without taking a political position”.
He said the lack of serious action by the West had consolidated President Assad’s confidence.
“Bashar used to be scared of the international community – he was really worried that they would impose a no-fly zone over Syria,” he said. “But then he tested the waters, and pushed and pushed and nothing happened. Now he can run air strikes and drop cluster bombs on his own population.” [Continue reading…]