x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Assad says Syria's Baath party chiefs were removed over 'mistakes in office'

The Baath party announced a list of 16 new leaders, which included none of the party's former chiefs with the exception of Mr Al Assad, who will remain secretary general.

Ruling party leaders removed in a reshuffle this week had made mistakes while in office, Syria's president, Bashar Al Assad, said yesterday.

The comments came two days after the Baath party announced a list of 16 new leaders, which included none of the party's former chiefs with the exception of Mr Al Assad, who will remain secretary general.

"When a leader does not solve a series of errors, this leader must be held accountable," he was quoted as saying in the Al Baath newspaper, which is the voice of the party.

"This is the real role of the [Baath party's] central committee, which is supposed to hold the leaders accountable on a regular basis. This did not happen in recent years," he added.

The reshuffle came more than two years in to a brutal war that has left more than 100,000 dead in Syria.

"Those defending the nation now are the workers and farmers ... some of them are in the army, others are defending their land," said Mr Al Assad. "The struggle now is between those who are ignorant and those who are aware, between the patriots and the collaborators, between extremists and moderates."

The Baath party has been in power since March 8, 1963.

Until February last year, the Syrian constitution described the Baath as the ruling party of Syrian society. After almost a year of an uprising demanding a regime change, the constitution was modified and a new article introduced enshrining the principles of pluralism and democracy.

The party's reshuffle was the first since 2005.

Among those removed from the leadership was the vice president, Farouk Al Sharaa, the only top Syrian official to advocate a political compromise in the country's bloody civil war.

In the same article, Mr Al Assad renewed his criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood while saluting Hizbollah and Iran.

Ever since mass protests led to the removal of Egypt's Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, Mr Al Assad and his government have launched numerous attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood.

He welcomed the Brotherhood's plight in Egypt.

"What is happening in Egypt is the fall of what is known as political Islam," he said. "After a whole year, reality has become clear to the Egyptian people. The Muslim Brotherhood's performance has helped them see the lies they used at the start of the popular revolution in Egypt."

The end of Brotherhood rule in Egypt, coupled with recent victories on the battlefield, has increased Mr Al Assad's confidence.

He "is basically saying the Islamists are now in retreat and the military are on the offensive", said Fawaz Gerges, the head of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics.

The Brotherhood's Syrian wing, which has been persecuted for decades, is a key component of the main opposition National Coalition.

The Brotherhood "takes advantage of religion and uses it as a mask … and it thinks that if you don't agree with it politically, that means you don't stand by God", said Mr Al Assad. But "this is not the case with Iran and Hizbollah".

Hizbollah "does not judge people based on religion or sect, but rather on patriotism and politics", he added. One must "distinguish between those who use religion for the benefit of a few, and those who use religion to defend causes that are just and right".

Hizbollah played a key role in the regime's takeover of Qusayr in central Syria. Its fighters are engaged in battles for rebel districts in the central city of Homs.

Iran has been a steadfast ally of Mr Al Assad's regime since the rebellion erupted in March 2011.


* Agence France-Presse and Reuters