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French Book Reveals How the Elysee Manipulated Facts about Syria Events

PARIS-"The Roads of Damascus", a recently-published French book written by French journalists Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, reveals true information and details provided by sources inside the French decision-making circle about how the French President Francois Hollande ordered the manipulation of the French intelligence services reports about what was said to be chemical weapons attacks in the Ghouta area near Damascus last August, a SANA report said yesterday.

 The two journalists clarify in their book that the French administration insisted to omit a paragraph from the intelligence report saying that it is possible gas had leaked following classical bombardment by the Syrian army that hit a secret opposition laboratory. The writers clarified that this conclusion was “simply and completely redacted” from the final text of the report.

The Syrian authorities repeatedly warned that the armed terrorist groups in Syria possess chemical weapons provided to them by certain countries in the region as to use them in some attacks and then accuse the Syrian Arab Army of launching these attacks. Syria has documented these facts in official letters sent to the Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly. 

According to media reports, the book also unfolds secrets on how the French presidency forced the French diplomatic missions and intelligence services to comply with the politically motivated decision to overthrow the "Syrian regime".

Robert Laffont, the publisher, introduces the book by saying "The Roads of Damascus" shows how successive French presidents dealt with Syria, “often precipitately, or with improvisation, which led to the impasse in the relations today.”

The French press has published some excerpts from the book, including in Le Point on October 9. The magazine said the book was “exceptional,” and published parts from the book containing important details about the Syrian crisis as they were discussed in the corridors of the Foreign Ministry, the Elysee, and the French intelligence and security services.

 The Lebanese "al-Akhbar" newspaper reported that under the title “A Brawl at the Quay d’Orsay” ( a Brawl at the Foreign Ministry), the book recounts a "violent quarrel" that took place over Syria at one of the offices of the Foreign Ministry in Paris in Spring 2011; that is at the beginning of the crisis in Syria. At the time, Alain Juppe was the foreign minister of France.

The brawl took place at the office of the Chief of Staff to the Minister for Foreign Affairs Herve Ladsous, between the French Ambassador to Damascus Eric Chevallier and Advisor to the President (Nicolas Sarkozy at the time) for Middle Eastern Affairs Nicolas Galey. Also present were the then-Director of the Middle East and North Africa Department and current French ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli, and Director of the Prospective of the Ministry Joseph Maila, in addition to diplomats assigned to the Syrian issue, according to the newspaper.

“The Syrian regime will not fall and Assad is strong” and will stay in office, was the conviction of Ambassador Chevallier at the time. This is what he had written in his diplomatic dispatches from Damascus, for which he was summoned back to Paris. Chevallier reiterated to those present at the meeting that he was “close to the field,” and had visited various regions in Syria where he noticed that the Syrian leadership is strong enough to stay.

"Stop talking nonsense!” Galey, Sarkozy’s envoy, interrupted. “We should not stick to the facts, but must look farther than our noses,” he added. Galey’s interjection was unprecedentedly hostile, according to one of those who were present. Even Ladsous “was shocked by Galey’s forcefulness,” as it turned out that Galey “had not come to the meeting to take part in the deliberations, but to fulfill a specific mission which was to impose the view that says "the Syrian regime’s fall is inevitable,” and make everyone understand that any dissenting opinion in this regard would not be tolerated in the French diplomatic corps.

But Chevallier defended his position, which was at odds with what the Elysee wanted to force through. He said that he had met with the "Syrian opposition" repeatedly, “but still felt that the regime has what it takes to survive as well as dependable foreign support.” “We do not care about your information,” Galey retorted again, prompting the ambassador to respond, “You want me to write something different, but my job as ambassador is to continue saying what I have written, that is, what has actually happened.” “Your information does not interest us,” Galey added in a sharp tone. The quarrel then grew sharper forcing Ladsous to intervene several times to end the “verbal battle.”

The book also tackles the fragile relationship between French diplomats and intelligence services, and the conflict between internal intelligence and foreign intelligence over Syria. The antipathy between the two agencies emerged with the beginning of the Syrian crisis.

One diplomat who was in contact with the two agencies explained that both were convinced that the "Syrian state would not fall, but that internal intelligence noticed rapidly the role of "salafis and jihadis" in what it called "rebellion", while the foreign intelligence continued to send reports distorting the situation in Syria.

Hamda Mustafa