Fisk defends the Assads

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(Israel Matzav) And you thought Fiskie couldn't sink any lower....
On Syrian television this week, I made the point that Gaddafi was insane and that – whatever else you thought of him – Assad was not. This was met (naturally) by vigorous agreement from the presenter. But wait. I promised to tell readers what happened to the programme. Well, two days ago, quite by chance, I bumped into the journalist who had interviewed me. Alas, he said, he thought the translation and subtitles wouldn't be ready for Saturday night's broadcast. Maybe we could do another interview later. Back to that old saw, I guess: we shall see.
In any event, I was made very much aware by her own personal assistant how "deeply hurt" Bashar al-Assad's wife Asma was at a report in The Independent a couple of weeks ago which suggested that she was indifferent to the plight of civilian opponents of the regime killed by the security forces. The story – not by me – quoted an aid official in Damascus who was present at a meeting with the First Lady, saying that – when asked about the casualties – "there was no reaction".
Needless to say, this report was gobbled up by the Arab media, including al-Jazeera, Assad's most hated TV station. Now Asma al-Assad's assistant has just given me the Syrian Arab Red Crescent's own official Arabic-language account of the meeting. It makes interesting reading. SARC volunteers told the president's wife that they received better treatment from the army "which has a clear leadership" than they did from the intelligence services at the checkpoints across Syria – they said the "muhabarrat" intelligence "enjoys no leadership or clear principles, at least from our point of view" – and that vehicles from the Ministry of Health are sometimes misused by "parties without control and this has created a situation of fear among citizens". Mrs Assad was told how difficult it was for the SARC to work in dangerous areas and to move the wounded.
"Mrs Asma [sic] showed her understanding of the difficulties our volunteers are going through," the SARC report says, "and expressed her deep admiration for their efforts in serving humanity and individual people ... and promised to convey some of their demands to the authorities." Mrs Assad's visit was "informal" and the discussions "friendly".
In the days that followed, the SARC report continued, the behaviour of "security checkpoints" towards their volunteers improved. A subsequent report in the weekly Syria Today quotes Mrs Assad as telling the Red Crescent volunteers that they "must remain neutral and independent during this time, focusing solely on humanitarian needs".
I'm sure he's quite popular in Britain....

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