Reuters, 28 June 2012 - Former chief of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, spoke about his one-day trip to Syria last Tuesday, his first in two years, in an exclusive televised interview to Al Arabiya, aired on Thursday.
Ghalioun resigned from his position in May to avert divisions within the opposition bloc that is the largest opposing group to President Bashar al-Assad.
Ghalioun was replaced by Kurdish activist Abdel Basset Sayda.
Syrian National Council former chief Burhan Ghalioun ( C ) with Syrian free army in Sarmada, near the Turkey-Syria border on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Recounting his trip into his homeland, Ghalioun said he crossed the Turkish borders into the northern part of Syria at three in the morning, accompanied by rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Ghalioun returned to Istanbul at eleven that same night.
He kissed the ground the moment he arrived on Syrian soil, a land that has been gripped by a 16-month popular revolt against the Baath regime, which has cost an estimated lives of more than 15,000 people according to human rights organizations.
“We traversed to Syria in a convoy, a real one … with cars in front of us and behind us. On the car I was riding, there was a banner that read: Free Syrian Army,” Ghalioun said.
Assad’s regime has lost control
The SNC’s former chief believes Assad’s regime has lost control on major parts of the country, and is now opting for a new strategy to contain the revolution.
“We drove across several towns as residents in large numbers were saluting the FSA without knowing who was inside the vehicle. I can truly say that the regions we crossed are liberated; there is no presence of regime forces, either morally, politically, economically or even physically. My visit to Syria proves Assad has lost control on the large parts of the country.”
Ghalioun described areas he visited as being autonomous, adding that the “heroic rebels have toppled three quarter of the Assad regime, and its collapse is underway.
“Our convoy was only 20 meters away of a regime forces’ camp,” he said.
“This is the coward government’s new strategy; since they can no longer control towns, they group in certain areas outside the villages for the main purpose of shelling cities from afar, mainly at night while citizens are sleeping.”
Ghalioun said he saw Syrians more united than ever, and the burgeoning of a new state in the country, “one based on the values of the revolution, on dignity, pride and freedom.
“Once I was there, I became just another witness of the bravery of the Syrian people. I was amazed by their guts and their courage to take initiatives.”
Asked why he didn’t pay this visit while he was still head of the SNC, Ghalioun said that his days were now not as hectic and that he is no longer busy with diplomatic meetings and media encounters like he was while leading the opposition.
“Perhaps one of the reasons I resigned is to be able to reconnect with these great people on the ground and to be closer to them; you have to be on field to be aware of the truth and of the real problems,” he said.
During his time there, Ghalioun toured hospitals, towns and terrains in the northern province of Idlib ─ sometimes incognito.
“I was wearing the djellabiya (robe) and the scarf because first, this is our national costume,” he said, “but also, I did not want to be recognized by the inhabitants as the news might reach the regime.”
In response to widely circulated rumors about rebels being armed, Ghalioun denied reports about heavy weaponry being smuggled into the Syrian territory.
“People have been fighting a monstrous and bloody dictatorship for 16 months with their bodies and souls … Most of the arms are those of the soldiers and officers who defected from the army, or weapons they could grab from their victorious battles with the regime.”
He went on to say that he “saw injured people, wounded children, little bread, no funds, few weapons, but nevertheless, I witnessed the strong will of everyone to volunteer in the resistance, and to fight an enemy that is, today, as bad as any colonial regime.”
In response to allegations against the opposition and the FSA for engaging in acts of violence, Ghalioun condemned the latest attack on a pro-Assad TV station, although not knowing who was behind it, and said that the rebel army is part of a larger revolutionary movement, where people are not “handpicked”.
“In this environment of death, slaughter and hatred created by the regime, and with several attempts to ignite sectarian clashes, which one of us can make sure that one or two or more individuals will not react violently? But until now, in areas where the FSA is in control, the ground is almost totally secure and safe.”
On politics and diplomacy
Speaking about Syria’s shooting down of a Turkish jet on Sunday, Ghalioun described the move as “a huge mistake which will mobilize the international community and the Friends of Syria.”
“The international help we are expecting might range from humanitarian aid to the establishment of a no-fly zone, or even sending weapons to the rebels,” he said.
Asked about Saturday’s meeting in Geneva on the Syrian conflict, where large powers invited by the U.N.-Arab league envoy Kofi Annan would discuss a solution for the Syrian crisis, Ghalioun said: “Geneva might be the last chance for diplomacy, before rebels change the military rules on the ground.
“If war is imposed on us (the Syrian people), we will go to war and we will not be waiting for international interference,” he told Al Arabiya.
He said he had asked the Friends of Syria group not to intervene directly “but at least help supply rebels with arms, which will lead us to a quick victory, and I am talking about few weeks, if our combatants have weapons and ammunitions.”
He believes the regime will fall sooner or later but sooner “with the cooperation of the international community.”
“All we need is either a no-fly zone or weapons. As for the rest, we are ready for the battle and we are willing to fight on our own,” he said.