Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib made some critical disclosures to Milliyet after his recent secret trip to Aleppo. He came to our meeting in Istanbul accompanied by well-known Alawite opposition member Monzer Makhous, who was appointed as the Syrian opposition's ambassador to France.
Khatib gave assurances to Syrian Alawites and Christians: "Syria is not Afghanistan and won’t be," he said. When I reminded him that the Turkish news media is uneasy with bearded men and the Islamic appearance of the Syrian opposition, and thus they keep their distance from the opposition, he said: “Please don’t look at our beards; look at the blood flowing in Syria. Children’s blood is being shed. Moreover, you have lots of bearded people in your country, too.”
There will be no sectarian clash
"The regime is inciting this. Alawite-Sunni distinction is their doing; we have been living together for centuries. Despite all this, there is no sectarian clash. We don’t have a blood feud in this land. There are wise men in the society who will prevent it."
Alawites won't suffer
"We will not allow revenge against Alawites. Alawites suffered under this regime. I did my military service in Latakia and there were times I cried at the things I witnessed. True, there are some of them benefiting from the regime, but most Alawites are still poor and oppressed. [Here, Alawite opposition member Monzer Makhous interjected, noting how the regime makes the Alawite opposition pay heavy prices.] We never want a blood feud.
"There were some who wanted revenge. After the massacres at Homs, there were those who wanted to take revenge against the Alawites, but we opposed that. We tell all commanders to be careful to ensure that the Alawites won’t suffer. For example, yesterday a commander I spoke to said they wanted to attack [pro-regime militia] Shabiha hiding in a village near Latakia but couldn’t because of the presence of women and children in the village."
Christians should not leave
"Don’t go, stay with us. Don’t leave Syria. There are some who might want to exploit the situation, Yes, minorities are afraid."
My heart danced in Aleppo
"I [have just] returned from Aleppo. I want there secretly and spoke to many people from different backgrounds. I felt alive. My heart danced. I cried when I saw my first olive tree. We embraced each other. People asked when the war will be over. Nobody is willing to be a slave anymore. I spoke to so many people, all their hearts are still pure. Later, Scud missiles were fired at the places I went."
We are open to negotiations
"The regime rejected our earlier offer. We said, 'At least, release the people from prisons,' but they didn’t. Preconditions make it difficult. [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] is lying, but we are still open to negotiations. We look at it from an humanitarian angle. The most important thing is to stop the bloodshed. We can negotiate, but the regime has to declare that Assad will leave and there must be international guarantees. The regime must not exploit negotiations to kill more people. [To my question whether negotiations will be with or without Assad:] These are technical details."
Assad still thinks he can crush the revolution
"He has a Stalinist mindset. He thinks he can do the same thing Iran did against the Green Revolution."
I can be a bridge between Turkey and the PYD
"The PYD [the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party] must decide which side it is on. Now some PYD people are against the regime but some are still with it. We spoke to Salih Muslim [a PYD leader] in Cairo. He’s ready for dialogue with Turkey. I am ready to be the bridge in between. I spoke with Turkey and I was told, 'If the PYD is sincere, it can be done.'
"We are against dividing Syria. We must help the PYD to make the right choice. But we are against splintering Syria; this is our red line. What kind of governance we will have can be discussed at the first parliament. In some countries, local administrations are powerful, in some they are not."
They are ethically weak
"Assad released 60,000 criminals from jails. The crime rate is very high. Furthermore, within the opposition, although in small numbers, there are ethically weak persons. We are trying to control the situation. Liwa-el-Tewhid set up a special unit to deal with security and with offenders in the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Approximately 100 people have been detained."
They dispatch radical jihadists to us
"The presence of foreign jihadists is being use to cast doubts about the legitimacy of our revolution. They are few in numbers. We don’t have contacts with them but in the future we will win them over. Some countries are sending their radicals to us just to get rid of them. But don’t worry, our social structure is not conducive to radicalization. The social structure of Syria is the guarantee that it will remain moderate. The FSA has banned foreign jihadists. To join FSA, you have to agree to democracy and to our by-laws."
There won't be an Alawite State
"Syrians don’t want it. The Syrian mosaic must remain as one. That is Assad’s plan should he lose. But it won’t work."
Who is he? Theologian, charismatic and balanced
Khatib is the leader of the opposition superstructure, the National Coalition of Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, established at the Qatar conference. Khatib, who was the imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus until recently, is known as a moderate and charismatic person. He comes from an established Sunni family. He was detained at the onset of the civil war in Syria, and later escaped abroad. He is not commanding the FSA but is in intuitional dialogue with them. He attracted criticism of some opposition groups with his statement two weeks ago of “we are ready for negotiations with the regime.’’
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