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article imageFrance, Britain, US want to regain 'prestige' with Syria strikes: dissident

By Álvaro VILLALOBOS (AFP)     Apr 18, 2018 in Politics

Far from "saving Syrians from brutality", the United States, France and Britain were likely only trying to regain international "prestige" when they attacked Bashar al-Assad's regime, prominent Syrian dissident Yassin al Haj Saleh told AFP.

The three countries launched missile strikes against suspected chemical weapons development and storage sites in Syria on Saturday in response to an alleged chemical attack in the town of Douma which killed at least 40 people.

French President Emmanuel Macron himself recognised Tuesday that the air strikes didn't "necessarily resolve anything" in a civil war that has lasted for seven years, leaving more than 350,000 people dead and millions displaced.

Macron added the strikes aimed to defend "the honour of the international community" in the face of Syria's suspected violation of the UN Chemical Weapons Convention.

"It's not about us, it's not about protecting our lives and saving Syrians from brutality," Yassin al Haj Saleh told AFP in Madrid this week, promoting the Spanish translation of his book "The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy".

He added that they "want to protect their allies, to regain some of their prestige, to express their anger towards the Russians and even more the Iranians" -- the foreign allies of the Assad regime.

"I think the moral of the strikes is 'be polite, don't trespass (on) our red lines and you'll stay in power'," said the 57-year-old author.

"We don't have problems with you, we have problems with your using chemical weapons, but go on killing with barrel bombs, under torture and so many other means."

Yassin al Haj Saleh was in jail in Syria from 1980 to 1996 for his opposition to then-president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father.

He managed to flee Syria in 2013, and is currently working as a researcher for Berlin's Institute for Advanced Study where he analyses mass atrocity crimes.

He also writes for Arabic newspapers such as Al-Hayat, Al-Quds al-Arabi and Al-Jumhuriya.

His wife Samira Khalil is a prominent human rights defender who was abducted in Douma along with three others by unidentified assailants in December 2013, none of whom has been seen since.

Known as the "Douma Four", they played an active role in Syria's anti-regime uprising since 2011 but were also documenting violations by Islamist opposition group Jaish al-Islam.

- Russian, Iranian 'occupation' -

For Yassin al Haj Saleh, the influence of Tehran and Moscow in Syria is such that he believes his country is under "Russian and Iranian occupation" that Western powers are tacitly allowing.

Foreign powers engaged in Syria
Foreign powers engaged in Syria

"I don't have any hope that the American administration, the Macron presidency and others" will manage to make the Syrian regime accountable, he added.

"Syria is a global symbol of injustice, of annihilation and the regime is still immune with no prospect of being held accountable."

Yassin al Haj Saleh lives in Germany, where hundreds of thousands of refugees have migrated, many of them fellow Syrians fleeing the war.

That refugee crisis, he says, was exploited by the far-right Alternative for Germany, a party that entered parliament in the September elections.

But he says mainstream politicians are also to blame.

"They are not aggressive in fighting for equality, for justice, for (the) equal rights for people."

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