The former prime minister of Syria delivered a harsh critique of the country’s president during an interview with al-Arabiya Friday, claiming that “not even the Nazis did what Bashar Assad’s doing in Syria.”
Riad Hijab, who defected from his post in Damascus six months ago, also told the Arabic-language news outlet that Iran is “actively running” Syria.
“Syria is occupied by the Iranian regime,” he said. “Who runs the country isn’t Bashar Assad but Kassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s al-Quds Brigades [within the Revolutionary Guards].”
Hijab’s comments come less than a week after a Washington Post article claimed Iran and Hezbollah were “building a network of militias” in Syria to protect their interests when Assad falls. The militias are fighting alongside the regime, sources told the newspaper, but also preparing for a day-after scenario in which Assad is gone. A senior Obama administration official put the number of Iranian mercenaries in Syria at 50,000.
Also on Friday, activists said some 150 rebels and government troops have been killed in fierce fighting for control of the international airport in the northern city of Aleppo and a major military air base nearby.
The director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the death toll is from fighting on Wednesday and Thursday and is almost evenly divided between opposition fighters and regime soldiers.
The Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees activist group said rebels and President Bashar Assad’s forces were shelling each other in renewed clashes Friday in and around the airports.
The rebels launched a major attack on Aleppo’s civilian airport and the nearby air base of Nairab on Wednesday. They have captured most of the “Brigade 80” force that is in charge of protecting the area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.