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Syria regime ex-spokesman breaks silence
By AFP - Feb 13,2013 - Last updated at Feb 13,2013
BEIRUT — Former foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said Wednesday he has a neutral stance on Syria’s 23-month conflict, as he broke his silence for the first time since leaving the country.
“I left Syria because the polarisation in the country has reached a deadly and destructive stage... I left a battlefield, not a normal country, and I apologise to those who trusted my credibility and for leaving without prior notice,” he said.
Makdissi, once one of the most recognisable faces of President Bashar Assad’s embattled regime who disappeared from public view in December, made the remarks in an e-mailed statement.
He stressed to AFP that he was now neither with the government in Damascus nor the opposition, which has been fighting to overthrow the Assad regime for nearly two years.
“I joined no one; I am independent,” Makdissi said, adding that he did not possess any state secrets and was not part of the decision-making process in the regime.
“The goals of the popular movement are frankly legitimate — in principle and in essence — and have won the battle for the hearts, because all parts of society always stand with the weak and with the legitimate demands of the people.
“But they have not won the battle for the minds, for many reasons that are common knowledge.”
The ministry announced on December 11 that Makdissi had taken sanctioned leave for three months following reports of the diplomat’s resignation and speculation about his possible defection.
But Makdissi blasted his pro-regime critics who “found the time to insult me and immediately accuse me of treason, without respect for the lives of the more than 65,000 Syrian martyrs”.
“I wish I could have stayed on Syrian land, but there is no longer room for moderation in this chaos,” Makdissi said of the war that began as a popular uprising and steadily militarised under brutal state repression.
“There are some who want an existential battle... it must remain a battle to save the country and the Syrian entity through national partnership,” Makdissi said, without clarifying to which parties he was referring.
Without revealing his current place of residence, he said: “I have not set foot in Europe or America, even though I have the visas in my passport.”
Makdissi only said he was now staying “with honourable brothers who are assisting the Syrian people to make it through this humanitarian plight without discrimination”.
A native Arabic speaker and fluent in French and English, Makdissi conducted his thesis in London while working for the Syrian embassy.
The Christian native of Damascus was called back to the Syrian capital soon after the uprising broke out in March 2011 to assume the post of foreign ministry spokesman and became known for his active Twitter account.
The longtime Assad loyalist has since shied from the limelight and kept away from the opposition.
Syria’s Al Qaeda branch staged four suicide bomb attacks on army positions Sunday, leaving dozens of casualties, in a bid to cut off Idlib province from the coast, a monitoring group said.
Al Qaeda is targeting citizen journalists in Syria’s Raqa with a wave of kidnappings, beatings and assassinations aimed at silencing them, in what activists call a reign of terror.
Rebels backed by captured tanks launched a fresh offensive on a government complex housing a police academy near the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, prompting the government to respond with air strikes to try to protect the strategic installation.
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