UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Syria’s foreign minister yesterday compared what he described as an invasion of foreign terrorists across his country to the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, remarks that Washington dismissed as offensive and disingenuous.
In a speech to the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem also said that “terrorists from more than 83 countries are engaged in the killing of our people and our army” under the appeal of global jihad.
“There is no civil war in Syria, but it is a war against terror that recognizes no values, nor justice, nor equality, and disregards any rights or laws,” Moualem said.
The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria’s 2½-year conflict as rebels fight against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad’s government. It began in March 2011 when the government tried to crush pro-democracy protests and eventually became a full-scale war. Now more than half of Syria’s 20 million people need aid.
“The people of New York have witnessed the devastations of terrorism, and were burned with the fire of extremism and bloodshed, the same way we are suffering now in Syria,” Moualem said, referring to the Sept 11 attacks carried out by the al Qaeda network that brought down the World Trade Center in New York and damaged the Pentagon outside Washington.
“How can some countries, hit by the same terrorism we are suffering now in Syria, claim to fight terrorism in all parts of the world while supporting it in my country?” he said.
The US mission to the United Nations responded by saying Moualem’s comment was “as disingenuous as it is offensive,” adding that his statements “have no credibility.”
“The fact that the Syrian regime has shelled schools and hospitals and used chemical weapons on its own people demonstrates that it has adopted the very terrorist tactics that it today decried,” US mission spokeswoman Erin Pelton said.
Assad’s government accuses Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Britain, France and the United States of arming, financing and training rebel forces in Syria.
The opposition Syrian Coalition described Moualem’s UN speech as misleading. “The extremists and terrorists do not represent the opposition,” the coalition said in a statement.
“The terrorists are doing the regime’s work – they frighten local populations, directly and actively attack moderate leaders, and drive sectarian wedges to scare off efforts to support the moderates,” it said.
Last week the UN Security Council achieved a rare moment of unity on the Syrian war by passing a resolution demanding the elimination of Syria’s chemical arsenal by mid-2014. Assad’s ally Russia supported the resolution, which was based on a US-Russian plan agreed upon in Geneva.
The council is now turning its attention to Syria’s dire humanitarian crisis, putting to the test its fragile consensus on the conflict with plans to approve a statement by Thursday aimed at boosting aid access in Syria.
“The signs are good,” Australian UN Ambassador Gary Quinlan, serving as president of the Security Council for September, said after the council met to discuss the statement drafted by Australia and Luxembourg.
Quinlan said that “we don’t want to lose the momentum and good spirit,” and said a decision has been made to pursue a non-binding statement on the issue because negotiating a legally binding resolution would take more time.