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"I had five sons, now I have four": Syria's senior cleric pardons the "rebels" who killed his son


The Grand Mufti of Syria preaches a message of forgiveness


‘I met those men who assassinated my own son – and they told me they didn’t even know whom they were killing.” Sheikh Ahmad BadreddinHassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria, sits in a straight-backed chair, his immaculate white turban atop a narrow, intelligent and very troubled face. His son Saria was a second-grade student at Aleppo University when he was shot dead getting into his car. “I went to see the two men in the court and they said they’d just been given the number of the car’s registration plate, that they didn’t know whom they had killed until they went home and watched the news on television.”

I ask for his reaction to the men’s confession, and the Grand Mufti puts his hands over his eyes and weeps. “He was only 21, my youngest son. It was 10 October last year. I am trying to forget that he is dead. In fact I feel as if Saria is still living. On that day, he was to be betrothed to his future wife. She was a student of medicine, he was in the politics and economics department. ‘Saria’ in Arabic means ‘the highest point’. The two men said that in all 15 were involved in planning my son’s death. They said they were told he was a very important man. I said to them: ‘I forgive you’ and I asked the judge to forgive them. But he said they were guilty of 10 times as many crimes and must be judged.”

Sheikh Hassoun holds up a finger. “That same day I received an SMS message. It said: ‘We are not in need of your forgiveness.’ Then I heard on one of the news channels that the gang’s leader had said he would ‘judge the Mufti first. Then let him forgive us.’ So I sent a message: ‘I have never killed any man and I don’t intend to kill any man but I regard myself as a bridge of reconciliation. A Mufti must be a father to all. So what do you want to kill me for'?

“All the men involved were Syrians, from the countryside of Aleppo. They said they received their command from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, that they were each paid 50,000 Syrian pounds. This shows that my son’s killing was not out of doctrine or belief. The two men were 18 or 19 only.”

So each man was paid the equivalent of £350; SariaHassoun’s life was worth a total of just £700. “I had five sons,” the Mufti says. “Now I have four.”

Sheikh Hassoun is, you might say, government-approved – he prayed beside the Syrian leadership  in a Damascus mosque after a bomb warning – and his family, let alone he himself, was an obvious target for "rebels" in Syria. But his courage and his message of reconciliation cannot be faulted. In whatever new Syria arises from the rubble.

And he speaks with remarkable frankness. When I tell him that I fear the mukhabarat intelligence service in Syria contaminates all it touches, including the institutions of government, he does not hesitate for a moment before replying.

“I suffered from the mukhabarat. I was taken from my post as a preacher from 1972 until 2000. I was taken from my position as Friday speaker in the Aleppo mosque and from lecturing on four occasions. The intelligence services all over the world are the same: they never look after the interest of the human being – they only look after their own institution".

And he asks whether it is not also true that the American intelligence services do not also spy on Americans and all of Europe, a difficult question – it must be said – to deny. “Let us put aside the Prophet Mohamed, Jesus and Moses – all the rest of the world are controlled by intelligence services.”

Unlike most Syrians, the Mufti looks forward rather than back. He prays for a Geneva 2 conference. “I am the Mufti of all Syrians – Sunni Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Druze – of all the diversity of sects we had before the crisis. There is no choice other than reconciliation; it is the only way back. But to offer reconciliation, we must eliminate the ‘external hand’ first.

“And if the neighbouring countries like Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon don’t try to make this same reconciliation, they will burn – the fire of crisis will flow to them, especially Turkey. For all Syrians, we are open for them to come back. The problem is those who came from outside Syria – especially from Iraq and Turkey – who came without visas over smugglers’ trails either to meet death or to overthrow the authorities here.”

A tougher Mufti emerges now. His sons’ killers, it transpires, are not the only prisoners of the government that he has met. “I saw men after they were arrested,” he says. “Some were in tears. They said they thought they were on their way to fight in Palestine, not to fight in Syria.”

There are times – when Sheikh Hassoun speaks of an “external hand”, “elimination” and “criminal gangs” – when one hears His Master’s Voice. And on the question of sarin gas, he takes the government’s side of the story. He quotes President Bashar Al-Assad as saying he would never use gas against Syrians - that if he had used it, the war would not have gone on for two and a half years.

The first major use of gas came in March at Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province, near the Mufti’s residence, when at least 26 civilians suffocated to death. This is his version of what happened.

“Some of the farm labourers reported to me that all the terrorists in the area had suddenly left – the night before the attack – and had evacuated all their people. So the civilians were happy – they were civilians and many were the wives and children of soldiers – and so they went back at last to their homes. Then came the chemical missile attack. I said at that time, in March, that this event is just an experiment, that gas will be used again in other places.”

This, of course, is not a story the Americans want to hear. Five months ago, the Mufti was invited to speak at George Mason and George Washington Universities in the United States and he travelled to Jordan for his visa. He says he was asked to go to the US embassy in Amman where he was interrogated by a woman diplomat from behind a glass screen.

“I was so insulted that I decided not to go and I left for Damascus the next morning.” A wise move. Sheikh Hassoun says that, the same day, one of his sons, who was in Amman, received a call from the embassy denying him a visa. “To be a secular Mufti,” the sheikh adds, “is dangerous.”

And it is true that the Mufti is a most secular man – he was even once an Assembly MP for Aleppo. “I am ready to go anywhere in the world to say that war is not a sacred deed,” he says. “And those who have fought under the name of Jesus, Mohamed or Moses are lying. Prophets come to give life, not death.

“There is a history of building churches and mosques, but let us build human beings. Let us cease the language of killing. Had we paid all the funds of war to make peace, paradise would exist now. This is the message of my Syria".

Source: the Independent


Zarif , Hague call for peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria

TEHRAN - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his British counterpart William Hague in a meeting in New York agreed to pursue the resumption of the severed relations between the two countries through their deputies, according to FNA.

"In this meeting (between Zarif and Hague), the bilateral relations and resumption of ties were reviewed and the two top diplomats agreed to study the different dimensions and the way of doing so through meetings to be held between their deputies  on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting (underway in New York)," Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham told reporters in her weekly press conference in Tehran on Tuesday.

Zarif and Hague held a meeting on the sidelines of the 68th annual session of the UN General Assembly in New York on Monday, during which the British foreign secretary highlighted the constructive role of Iran in the settlement of the crisis in Syria, and called for more interaction between international bodies and Tehran to find new peaceful solutions to the ongoing crisis  in Syria.

Afkham said that the Iranian and British foreign ministers have also discussed the crisis in Syria, and added, "International topics and the Syrian issue were raised at this meeting, and given Iran's special and influential status in regional issues, Zarif explained Iran's views about the Syrian issue."

"During the talks, Mr. Zarif laid emphasis on (the need for) a political solution to the Syrian crisis," she added.

"Given the fact that we are on the threshold of a new round of nuclear negotiations, some related views were also exchanged on the issue in this meeting," Afkham said, stressing that "the meeting between the Iranian and British foreign ministers was a step forward".

Late in August, UN Undersecretary General Jeffrey D. Feltman also underscored Iran's influential role in settling the regional crises, and hailed the country's cooperation with regional and international bodies in various fields.


Ryabkov: US Syria Policies within UNSC Illogical

 MOSCOW- Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has stressed that Washington's attempts to persuade the UN Security Council (UNSC) to adopt a resolution that would contain threats against Syria are illogical, according to the Voice of Russia.

 In the Russian State Duma, the lower chamber of Russia's parliament, Ryabkov said on Tuesday, "the Syrian side has clearly demonstrated its goodwill to join the Chemical Weapons Convention. In this situation, the Americans' attempts, which are vigorously supported by the British and French, to push the UN Security Council toward adopting a resolution that would contain an immediate threat against Syria appear to be illogical."

Ryabkov: UN experts to return to Syria on September 25

Ryabkov said The United Nation's chemical weapons experts are expected to return to Syria on September 25.

"We are pleased that our persistent calls for the return of UN experts to Syria to investigate other instances of chemical weapons use have produced results. The latest information available indicates that Salstrom's group will leave for Damascus tomorrow, September 25," Ryabkov clarified.

Russian Foreign Ministry against UNSC Syria resolution with automatic sanctions

Ryabkov also said that any UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution should not contain automatic sanctions that might be applied should the Syrian chemical weapons disarmament deal be broken.

"A UNSC resolution ought to come as a follow-up to the appropriate decisions made by Executive Council of the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons). I repeat once again that adopting a UNSC resolution enforcing Article 7 of the UN Charter or automatically applying sanctions, let alone military force, is out of the question," he stressed.

The Russian diplomat pointed out that the US Congress members' refusal to meet with Russian parliamentarians, who planned to visit the United States to discuss the Syrian crisis, highlights the weakness of Washington's stance on this topic.

"The American side's failure to respond to this initiative, which was effectively blocked by it, indicates the weakness of Washington's arguments and possibly the absence of the required support within the American Congress for the US administration's plans," he said.

Pushkov: There are limits for Moscow Cooperation with the US

Russian State Duma's International Affairs Committee Alexei Pushkov said that Russia will not give the nod to a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Syria.

At an Open Rostrum roundtable in the State Duma on Tuesday, Pushkov criticized the argument that Russia can only do something real in cooperation with the leading Western states and described it as dangerous.

"Yes, we must walk this way as we did (cooperating with the leading Western states) and this tendency should be consolidated. I agree. But the cooperative spirit must have its limits. We demonstrated maximum willingness to cooperate on Libya. The result is well known: We lost absolutely everything we could there, including in terms of image," Pushkov said.

Russia has been opposing for two and a half years the adoption of a resolution that would authorize air strikes against Syria. Due to this Russia has gained much in terms of image, he said.

"We are demonstrating that we can do quite a lot," he added. "What is meant here is the resolve to pursue our own line. Yes, Russia will be cooperative with the United States as much as possible and for as long as possible. But there are limits to this," Pushkov said.

H. Mustafa

Lavrov to attend UN General Assembly session

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to take part in the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced earlier it was expected that the search for ways to resolve the crisis in  Syria on the basis agreed earlier would continue during Lavrov's meetings with US Secretary of State John and UN peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.

A trilateral meeting of Lavrov, Kerry and Brahimi could be held as well,according to Voice of Russia, Interfax.

Lavrov will have a busy time during the current UN General Assembly Session, where the Russian delegation is leading, according to Russia's Foreign Ministry.

"Besides some bilateral meetings, Lavrov will take part in a conference of the foreign ministers of BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa], a session of the International Quartet on the Middle East, and a meeting of the P5+1 on the Iranian nuclear program," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

"There are also meetings planned with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, including in the five-party format of the permanent members of the UN Security Council," it said.

Lavrov's bilateral meetings with EU Foreign Policy Chief Baroness Catherine Ashton, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, Palestinian National Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and other officials are expected to take place on the sidelines of the General Assembly session as well.

The program of the 68th session includes a number of high-level events, which will address nuclear disarmament and other pressing issues on today's international agenda, the ministry said.



UN sees 'opportunity for Syria diplomacy'

The UN's undersecretary general for political affairs has said there is a fresh opportunity for a political, diplomatic approach to the crisis in Syria, now that Damascus has acknowledged it has chemical weapons and agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.

In an interview with the BBC's Kim Ghattas, Jeffrey Feltman also suggested that Tehran would have to play a role.

"It's very hard for us to imagine a political solution for Syria that works, that doesn't somehow have Iran as part of the conversation", he said.