In an unprecedented interview with Israel Radio, Nofal Al-Dawalibi, a Syrian opposition leader and son of former two-time Syrian prime minister Maarouf Al-Dawalibi, said that the Syrian people want peace, including with Israel, and seek stability after the ongoing bloodshed.
The interview comes against a background of decades of overt Syrian hostility to Israel, and shatters a taboo of Syrian representatives in any forum talking openly with Israelis. At international events, Syrian leaders have always sought to ensure that Israeli journalists are kept out of their press conferences, and ignored questions from Israeli reporters on the rare occasions when Israelis did manage to address them directly. Israeli journalists are never granted visas to enter Syria.
Formally, Bashar Assad’s regime is at war with the Jewish state, as it was under his father Hafez’s rule. Syria has waged a series of wars against Israel, and steadfastly resisted international pressure for a diplomatic accommodation — although there were contacts, partly mediated by the United States, that appeared set to generate a possible breakthrough during the Clinton Administration in and around the year 2000.
Dawalibi’s interview marked the potential beginning of a change from that mindset, should the Syrian opposition struggle prevail. When asked about the “fear that many Israelis have” that Islamic forces may occupy the political vacuum in Syria if Assad falls — and what effect that would have on Syria’s relationship with Israel — Dawalibi replied that the Syrian people do not want any more fighting. Syrian civilians have been left out of the political process for over 40 years and they only want peace, he added.
Dawalibi was speaking by telephone from Paris to Israel Radio’s Arab Affairs Correspondent Eran Zinger. Portions of the recorded interview, conducted in Arabic and translated into Hebrew for listeners, were released Friday and Saturday. Dawalibi is seen as a consensus builder between the Syrian opposition and the West, Israeli Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara told Israel Radio.
Dawalibi also commented on the “long struggle” of the Syrian opposition. “We are not interested in negotiating with Assad,” Dawalibi told Zinger, and referred to the Syrian president as “mafia bacteria.”
He added that the United Nations’ observer mission should include thousands — not hundreds — of observers, and that the team needs to reach cities where Assad’s forces are fighting.
The UN Security Council reached a tentative agreement Friday evening for the deployment of up to a total of 300 observers — up from the expected 30 — to monitor the tenuous ceasefire between regime troops and opposition in Syria. It was set to vote on the measure Saturday evening.
Meanwhile, some 75 individuals were killed during fighting between pro-regime and opposition forces Friday, according to the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat. Syrian authorities also released some 30 Syrian members of opposition who “did not have blood on their hands,” according to SANA, the state-news agency.
Special Envoy to Syria Kofi Annan called for an “immediate” end to the violence.