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9 Sep, 2016 14:52

‘Peace in Syria can’t be reached through Western interference’ - UK’s Baroness Cox to RT

Bashar Assad has enormous support both from his people and unarmed opposition groups for his fight against Islamic State, despite the West’s push for regime change in Syria, says Baroness Caroline Cox. The UK House of Lords peer was speaking to RT after meeting the Syrian leader.

Crossbencher Baroness Cox, who visited Damascus as part of a British delegation earlier in September, spoke exclusively to RT about her trip.

She said Syrian President Assad himself wants to see democratic change and a strong civil society in the country, but believes that’s unrealistic at the moment unless the threat posed by Islamists is eliminated and Western pressure on the government is stopped.

“My thoughts reflect the voice of the Syrian people who we met, we were in Damascus and Aleppo, we met very many Syrian people, political leaders, faith leaders, Christian and Muslims, and local people,” Cox said.

“And they would say that the West plans for regime change, which would be disastrous … and they would become another Iraq.”

Baroness Cox said that despite a considerable part of society being critical of the Syrian leader, some opposition circles do support Assad: “They say he is their elected president, that he is doing a lot to protect his people, he is now making very good progress with important initiatives like reconciliation.”

“We met two of the ministers in the opposition, unarmed opposition – of course they criticize him, they would want to change this – but they support the president at the present time because he protects the country and their freedoms from the Islamist terrorism.”

In sharp contrast with the widespread Western accusations of Assad being an authoritarian ruler, Cox emphasized the president himself wants to see Syria become a viable democratic state in future.

“President Assad himself said he would like to see democratic elections, with international observers, so there is openness for the development of civil society, democracy and change,” she said, adding, “but they can’t happen while this horrendous war is going on.”
The British delegation also included Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican Bishop of Rochester, along with another crossbench peer, Lord Hylton, as well as the Reverend Andrew Ashdown, an Anglican vicar.

Their private visit to Damascus, though unofficial, has triggered a barrage of criticism in the British media, with claims that the high-profile visitors held a meeting with a “mass murderer.”

“One of the things worrying the people we met in Aleppo is the way the Western media tend to have covered the tragedy of the suffering people of Syria,” Cox said.

“Everything tends to focus on what the Syrian Army and the government are doing and the allegations of the use by the Syrian Army of chemical weapons. The balance of the media coverage, as it comes in Western media, has been very one-sided.”

Earlier in September, John Woodcock, the Labour MP and vice-president of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Syria, told the Telegraph: "It is shocking to see a British parliamentarian giving international pariah [Assad] a photo opportunity to distract from the brutal and ongoing slaughter he is perpetrating on Syrian families.”

The media reaction has been “very, very aggressively critical,” Cox said. “My answer to that is, well, I think it is a bit one-sided to do this before we are here to speak for ourselves.”

“Secondly, we were there for five days and we spent two hours with President Assad. The rest of the five days we were with the people, and in very dangerous situations.”

READ MORE: Syrian President Assad hands Tory MPs a ‘kill list’ of British extremists

Despite all the odds, she continued, “the people of Syria, of course, are immensely grateful for Russian support which helps them to protect themselves from this Islamist terrorism.

“Therefore I hope very much that there will be some progress in moving towards the elimination of the Islamist armed groups,” Cox said.

“[I hope] that Syria can have the peace and help it needs to develop a civil society, and freedom to choose their own leadership and not interference in a very unhelpful way from Western powers.”