Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began his interview with the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen by saying: “We need to talk about facts” – but very little else he said was grounded in reality.
Assad, in charge of his country for four years of civil war that has claimed over 200,000 lives, painted an image of himself as a leader who was defending is country from terrorists, and still had the support of his people.
He added that the Western narrative of the conflict is “childish” – as he denied a catalogue of atrocities including the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons.
At the risk that the Syrian dictator accuses Channel 4 News of being “childish” we feel we should point out the weight of evidence that suggests Mr Assad is lying.
There’s no barrel bombs. We don’t have barrels. Bashar al Assad
Above: an unexploded barrel bomb in Hama, Syria
President Assad insisted that his military is not using indiscriminate weapons, specifically barrel bombs, in his war against rebels.
Barrel bombs are typically 300kg to 600kg barrels filled with explosives and shrapnel. When they hit everything within a 250m radius is destroyed – buildings are flattened and people are ripped to pieces.
Assad said the army does not have barrels – joking: “It is like talking about cooking pots. We don’t have cooking pots”.
The evidence for the use of barrel bombs by the Syrian regime is overwhelming.
In July last year Human Rights Watch said it had documented 650 damages sites around the city of Aleppo alone. The sites are different to conventional bombings – wither larger, irregular craters. Amongst those killed in these attacks was Nouru al-Abdu – a 13-year-old decapitated in a blast in 2013.
Hundreds of videos of barrel bomb attacks, and unexploded barrels have been posted online.
Watch more: footage of barrel bomb attacks in Syria
These videos include footage said to be soldiers pushing barrel bombs out of helicopters. Though there is always the possibility that videos are faked, it is hard to imagine who would fake these as Syria’s rebels do not have helicopters.
Examples of this barrel bombs footage has been analysed by respected weapons blogger Brown Moses, who has said there is “clear evidence of DIY barrel bombs being used by the Syrian Air Force”. Some more footage collated by Brown Moses can be found here.
Assad is deluded or lying when he says his military are not murdering hundreds of innocent civilians with the use of barrel bombs. Philip Hammond
Last year the United Nations unanimously adopted Resolution 2139 which called for, amongst other things, an end to the use of barrel bombs in the Syrian conflict. Last month UN Deputy Humanitarian Chief Kyung-wha Kang said “the call continues to be ignored”.
Human Rights Watch says more than half of the civilians killed in the Syrian conflict have been killed by explosive weapons, including barrel bombs.
The Syrian government is not alone in killing civilians with explosive weapons in Syria – rebel groups have also been accused of using weapons such as mortars on heavily populated areas. However, as the Syrian military has control of the skies, claims of barrel bomb use fall firmly at their door.
On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “Assad is deluded or lying when he says his military are not murdering hundreds of innocent civilians with the use of barrel bombs.
“His regime has waged a brutal campaign against the Syrian people, using crude and indiscriminate weapons and prevented access to life-saving humanitarian assistance.
“Assad’s forces have systematically murdered, tortured, raped and imprisoned Syrians. There can be no doubt that he is the problem, not part of the solution.”
Definitely not (when asked if Syrian military is using chlorine gas). Bashar al-Assad
Barrel bombs can also be used to deploy chemical weapons. Though Assad denied in the BBC interview that the Syrian military has used chlorine gas or barrel bombs, a recent Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons mission concluded that “chlorine gas was used as a weapon against three opposition-controlled villages in Syria last year”.
The mission said evidence it found was “compelling confirmation” that a chlorine gas was “systematically and repeatedly used”.
Though the OPCW did not attribute blame, 32 out of 37 witnesses interviewed “saw or heard the sound of a helicopter over the village at the time of the attack with barrel bomb containing toxic chemicals”.
Above: a child being treated after a chlorine gas attack in Telminnes on 21 April 2014
The report included 142 videos and 189 pieces of material obtained by investigators, including photos of impact sites and the inner chlorine cylinder from a barrel bomb.
Accounts of victims and medical personnel, given to the UN, provided descriptions of symptoms following the attack including vomiting, eye and skin irritation, choking and other respiratory problems – all consistent with chemical attacks.
The UN has said there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that chemical attacks, in April last year, were carried out from “government helicopters”.
Assad also said the military had “definitely not” carried out the chemical weapons attack in Damascus in August 2013, that killed up to 1,400 people (according to US estimates).
Though the UN report into the attack, in the rebel held area of Ghouta in east Dasmacus, did not attribute blame – there is evidence that suggests the Syrian military are likely culprits.
Ake Sellstrom, the Swedish scientist who led the UN investigation, said it was difficult to see how rebels could have weaponised the toxins discovered in the attack.
A UN report from February last year said: “The perpetrators (of the Ghouta attack) likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military, as well as the expertise and equipment necessary to manipulate safely large amount of chemical agents.”
Also, the types of weapon used to deploy the chemical weapons, a Russian supplied 140mm rocket system and a larger 330mm system, had only been observed being used by the Syrian military.
Most of the areas that we encircle and attack are only filled with militants. Bashar al-Assad
Assad said that civilians flee rebel held areas to areas controlled by the government, and therefore his military is targeting “only militants”. At least 18,000 civilians died in Syria last year.
The Strategic Needs Analysis Project says 160,000 people are besieged by the Syrian Army in Ghouta, 4,000 in Darayya and 18,000 in the Yarmouk refugee camp.
Below are pictures of civilians in Douma, a rebel-held area of eastern Damascus currently being targeted by the Syrian regime.
Douma civilians: February 20159 February 2015A boy stands on rubble as people try to put out a fire after what activists said were airstrikes followed by shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus.originaldate 1/1/0001 6:00:00 AMheight 800width 1200orientation 1camerasoftware Adobe Photoshop Elem25 January 2015An injured child sits on a bed in a field hospital after what activists said were air strikes by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Douma.originaldate 1/1/0001 6:00:00 AMheight 800width 1200orientation 1camerasoftware Adobe Photoshop Elem9 February 2015A man carries children rescued from an area where activists said were hit by airstrikes from forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Douma.originaldate 1/1/0001 6:00:00 AMheight 800width 1200orientation 1camerasoftware Adobe Photoshop Elem9 February 2015Men carry children rescued from an area where activists said were hit by airstrikes from forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Douma.originaldate 1/1/0001 6:00:00 AMheight 800width 1200orientation 1camerasoftware Adobe Photoshop Elem9 February 2015A medic and civilians carry a casualty after what activists said were airstrikes followed by shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Douma.originaldate 1/1/0001 6:00:00 AMheight 800width 1200orientation 1camerasoftware Adobe Photoshop Elem
(Rebel groups have) the same grassroots. Bashar al-Assad
The Free Syrian Army, which has Western backing, is mostly comprised of soldiers who defected from the Syrian military. It is allied to the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces and its arms are to replace Assad with a democratic society.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Islamic State group, formed from an al-Qaeda offshoot in Iraq, whose aim is to establish a caliphate state operating under Sharia law.
These are not the same.
During the first few weeks many policemen were killed… From the very beginning the demonstrations weren’t peaceful. Bashar al-Assad
Assad dismissed claims that the protests that began the Syrian conflict were peaceful, saying many policemen were killed by protesters.
He neglected to mention that Syrian security forces implemented a harsh crackdown on the protests, including reports of torture, beatings and shootings.
The death toll for the protests, up to mid-May 2011, was 1,000.