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Middle East

Syria's ex-spokesperson breaks silence

Jihad Makdissi in emailed statement says he has neutral stance on 23-month conflict that has left more than 60,000 dead.
Last Modified: 13 Feb 2013 17:29
Makdissi said he was neither with the government in Damascus nor the opposition [AFP]

Jihad Makdissi, the former Syrian foreign ministry spokesman, has said he has a neutral stance on the 23-month conflict, as he broke his silence for the first time since leaving the country in December.

"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 in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

Makdissi, once one of the most recognisable faces of President Bashar al-Assad's embattled regime who disappeared from public view in December, said 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."

Makdissi criticised 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.

'Airbase seized'

Rebels have made gains in the country's north in recent months, and on Wednesday took over a second military airport in two days.

Fighters attacked the military complex, known as Base 80, tasked with securing the nearby Aleppo international airport as well as the Nayrab military airport.

"Fierce clashes pitting troops against rebels loyal to al-Nusra Front, Liwa al-Tawhid, Al-Muhajireen and other groups raged near Base 80, most of which has come under insurgent control," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Meanwhile, the regime forces have bombarded the southeast of Damascus with air strikes and artillery to try and dislodge rebel fighters who have gained a foothold in the Syrian capital.

The fighting came a day after rebels in Aleppo province seized a military airport at al-Jarrah and launched an assault on other air bases in the area, including the Aleppo international airport, closed since January 1.

Despite the advances, regime warplanes remained active in Aleppo province on Wednesday, carrying out bombing raids on the outskirts of the town of Sfeira, southeast of Aleppo, and al-Bab, northwest of Syria's second city, said the Observatory.

Regime jets also bombed Jobar, a neighbourhood adjacent to the main Abbasid Square, and the suburb of Daraya on the highway to Jordan to the south, sources in the capital told Reuters news agency.

The air force launched at least 10 bombing raids on rebel-held Deir al-Asafeer near Damascus, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a grassroots network of activists.

On the eastern and western edges of the central city of Homs, rebels clashed with troops on two main highways, a rebel commander said.

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