Syrian air force pounds Damascus neighborhoods

Syrian air force pounds Damascus neighborhoods

Former prime minister, who defected, says Assad will carry on fighting come what may

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Riyad Hijab (CC BY Al Manar TV, Wikipedia)
Riyad Hijab (CC BY Al Manar TV, Wikipedia)

The Syrian army launched air and artillery strikes on rebel strongholds in Damascus, killing several people and wounding dozens, Reuters reported on Monday.

The attacks focused on the largely Sunni neighborhoods of Sbeineh, Yalda, Bibla, al-Tadamun and Hajar a-Aswad.

The bombardments came after a bloody night of attacks and counterattacks that left 20 people dead from an artillery barrage. Earlier in the night, Free Syrian Army rebels attacked a pro-Assad militia stronghold in the Nasreen neighborhood, which has a predominantly Alawite population.

Rebels forces also attacked positions of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), that is aligned with Assad, in the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk.

Israel Radio reported that a total of 234 people were killed in clashes across the country on Sunday.

Riyad Hijab (photo credit: CC BY Al Manar TV, Wikipedia)
Riyad Hijab (photo credit: CC BY Al Manar TV, Wikipedia)

Riyad Hijab, the former prime minister of Syrian who defected in August, said President Bashar Assad has no intention of trying to make peace with the rebel forces.

In an interview published in the Telegraph on Sunday, Hijab said that shortly before he bolted the country he, along with the vice president, the parliamentary speaker and the deputy head of the Baath party, met with Assad in an effort to persuade the Syrian leader to negotiate an end to the fighting.

“We told Bashar he needed to find a political solution to the crisis,” Hijab said in the interview. “We said, ‘These are our people that we are killing.’ We suggested that we work with the Friends of Syria group, but he categorically refused to stop the operations or to negotiate.”

A week later Hijab defected and left the war-torn country. The former prime minister painted a grim picture of the current Syrian leadership, in which formal government control has all but been replaced by a small group comprising Assad, his security chiefs, family and friends.

Hijab noted that although Assad initially feared that the international community would enforce a no-fly-zone, when he realized that was not to be the case he became emboldened to use airstrikes and cluster bombs against the population.

A significant turning point in attitudes was the rebel bombing of the national security building in July that killed the defense minister and Assad’s brother-in-law. After, that the new defense minister sent orders that security forces should do whatever it took to win. Ceasefires negotiated through the United Nations were merely delaying tactics, Hijab said, so that the regime could continue its efforts to crush the revolution.

Hijab claimed that the war would continue as long as Iran and Russia continued to support Assad, and that even without those two allies, Assad would never step down.

“I am shocked to see Bashar do what he is doing,” he said. “He used to seem like a good human being, but he is worse than his father.”

Hafez Assad’s brutal repression in 1982 of a Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Hama killed 10,000 people.

“Hafez is a criminal for what he did in Hama, but Bashar is a criminal for what he is doing everywhere.”

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