Amid mounting international pressure on Bashar Assad to halt his military’s onslaught on the country’s civilian population, the Syrian president nonetheless found time to convene a clerical conference “for the defense of Jerusalem.”
Assad used the event Wednesday to make a speech emphasizing “the importance of opposing the dangerous Israeli actions of Judaizing Jerusalem and destroying the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Syria’s news agency SANA reported.
Also at the conference, held under the title “Al-Aqsa is a shouting truth in the heart of the nation,” Assad announced the establishment of the “Union of Syrian Clerics,” headed by 84-year-old pro-regime cleric Muhammad Al-Bouti. The meeting was attended by clerical delegations from Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories, SANA said.
According to Lebanese news station Al-Manar, owned by the pro-Assad Shiite movement Hezbollah, the first session of the conference was titled “Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” where participants debated the question of Jerusalem in international law, the role of Muslim clerics in protecting Jerusalem and the role of Syria in defending Jerusalem and its holy sites from the “Zionist violations.”
The second session dealt with the role of Syrian clerics in repelling the “conspiracy against Syria.”
Assad explained the establishment of the “Union of Syrian Clerics” as needed to “market a correct image of Islam in light of the defamation campaign facing Muslims.”
Assad himself belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam which most Muslims consider to be outside the religion’s pale.
On Wednesday, Assad promised international envoy Kofi Annan to implement a ceasefire beginning Thursday morning.