Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad celebrated the Muslim Eid holiday with a visit to the recently recaptured Damascus suburb of Darayya, where he celebrated that Western-backed rebels, and their patrons, were “sad and vanquished” and vowed to return “true freedom” to the town.
In a video posted to the Syrian government’s official YouTube channel and translated by the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Assad derides the “false freedom” of Syrian opposition groups, which have called for free and fair elections and been the target of violent crackdowns on Assad’s part. “We have come today to substitute the false freedom which they tried to peddle at the beginning of the crisis, including here in Darayya, with true freedom, which begins with the restoration of security and safety,” he told his audience.
“This is not the kind of freedom that begins on their [the rebels’] side and ends with a fistful of dollars,” he added, “which are given to them at the beignning of every month and every terror season, or freedom that includes some new promises for positions in the new Syria in the Western sense: an enslaved and obedient Syria.”
To “Western officials,” Assad says, “you are sad and vanquished, but we are happy… because you are sad and vanquished. When you conspire against Syria every hour of every day, and then you reach the point of defeat, that means things are on the right track.”
While a variety of anti-Assad groups operate in Syria — from the Western-backed Free Syria Army to the Islamic State and former al-Nusra Front to the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units — Assad policy does not distinguish between them, with Assad himself referring to the conflict in his nation as one between his allegedly legitimate government and “terrorists.” Assad has ruled Syria for sixteen years, most recently “winning” the presidency in 2014 with 88 percent of the vote, in an election U.S. officials referred to as a “sham.”
Due to the United States’s support for moderate rebel groups, Assad has repeatedly accused the White House of backing “terrorists” and being “not serious” about the fight against the Islamic State.
Darayya, where Assad delivered his recent remarks, stands as a reminder that not all those opposed to Assad are “terrorists.” The town was among the first to stage protests against Assad in 2011; Assad’s violent crackdown of these protests fueled the current civil war. It never suffered from a significant Islamic State or other jihadi presence, largely because Syrian troops isolated it from the rest of the world, cutting off the town’s food and medicine supplies in 2012. Aid finally arrived in the town last month but was negligible compared to the demand. Due to Syrian and joint Russian military attacks, the United Nations oversaw the evacuation of Darayya at the end of the month. The suburb Assad spoke to on Monday was entirely devoid of its original residents.
Of Darayya, local rebel leader Abu Samer told The Guardian, “We never had beheadings or criminality against civilians or extremism… Darayya was always a thorn in Assad’s side, and now they will have the rubble of all the buildings they destroyed.”
Assad’s Eid message follows the implementation of a joint Russia-U.S. peace deal that begins with a 48-ceasefire. The provisions of the entire peace deal are not public, however, though Russia is pushing the American Department of State to publish them. Syrian troops killed 90 people in airstrikes over Idlib and Aleppo shortly before the ceasefire began and have blocked the transfer of aid into Aleppo.
Russia is calling for an extension of the current ceasefire for another two days, claiming rebels had violated the ceasefire “60 times.”