Syria’s dictator good-naturedly ribs himself for killing over a hundred thousand of his own citizens.
While the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons claimed the increasingly less prestigious Nobel Peace Prize this past week, beating out a host of also-rans running the deserving spectrum from Malala Yousafzai to Vladimir Putin, someone else who knows a thing or two about chemical weapons now jokes that the award “should have been mine”: Bashar al-Assad.
When the Nobel was announced last week, Syrian government officials’ reactions varied, from condemning it as a “premature step” to arguing that the award favorably reflected Assad’s work in the country. The Syrian leader, meanwhile–under whose tenure the nation has seen a bloody civil war take the lives of at least a hundred thousand in the past two years–told Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar “jokingly” that the prize “should have been mine.” While the OPCW is charged with the physical destruction of Assad’s weapons, his comment comes after months of negotiations culminated with his agreement to destroy the stockpiles allegedly used against rebels and civilians alike this year.
As for giving up the weapons themselves, Assad appeared almost dismissive of their ability to accomplish anything defensively. The newspaper notes that he claims “not [to] regret” giving them up, though he described it as a “moral and political” loss more than a practical one. He also said of conventional weapons, “it is enough to lay down fire on Israel’s airports to paralyze it,” which minimizes his interest in having chemical weapons for such a potential attack. With that in mind, however, Assad told the paper he is more concerned with “internal” enemies than Israel at the moment.
Chiding Hamas for “betraying” his government, Assad described the fight as a “cultural” one between East and West–but nonetheless quipped that Western powers “always dealt with us more honorably than some Arabs.” Despite this, Assad contended that relations with Egypt, “the fortress of the Arabs,” were better now than they had been under Mubarak.
Earlier Monday, Assad’s army shelled a building in southern Syria, killing 11, including women and children. This adds to the estimated toll of 100,000 lives since the civil war began and follows a string of attacks both by Assad’s troops and Syrian rebels against Christian strongholds in the nation. Syrian Christians have, by and large, chosen to remain as long as they can in the nation, citing religious conviction that it is God’s will that they remain, despite the danger.
Read Al Akhbar’s full feature on Assad here.