January 12, 2012
A video of this interview was recorded by PressTV and was made public here.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March, with demonstrations being held both against and in favor of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Hundreds of people, including many members of the Syrian security forces, have been killed during the unrest.
The Syrian government says outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorists are the driving factor behind the turmoil and deadly violence, while the opposition accuses the security forces of being behind the killings.
Damascus also says that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country and that the security forces have been given clear instructions not to harm civilians.
Press TV has interviewed freelance journalist Lizzie Phelan to get an update on the situation. What follows is a transcript of the interview:
Press TV: Lizzie tell us what you saw happened?
Phelan: Yes, well actually I was meant to be on the delegation of journalists travelling to Homs myself, I must say this is pure coincidence that I am here speaking to you right now.
So the delegation of journalists came under fire by a shell and a French journalist along with another Belgian journalist that stepped out of the car to see- to take footage of the wreckage and at that moment they were then hit by another shell, this is according to firsthand accounts of what happened.
And the second attack killed the French journalist [Jill Jackie] and it seriously wounded another Belgian journalist, who is now reported to be in the hospital in Homs and eight other civilians are also reported to have been killed and approximately further eleven people wounded.
Now this has been received by the Syrian authorities here who gave permission to the journalists to make their visits to Homs as an attempt by armed groups in the country to sabotage the- as your reports showed- perhaps hundreds of thousands of people came out to rally in support of the government.
And indeed the president came out and spoke about the importance of the people at the same time taking part in the reform process that is also combating terrorism.
So it has been seen very much as an attempt by these armed opposition individuals inside the country to portray a scene of a chaos to the outside world. Because as we know, since NATO and the West lost their votes in the United Nations, because of the VETO of Russia and China.
It appears that there has been a different tact employed by the West and we have of course had reports that they have been supporting armed opposition groups with the help of countries like Qatar and Turkey.
Indeed just a few days ago, there was a report on the British Special Forces website, saying that they believed that British Special Forces were giving logistics and financial and training support to armed opposition groups inside Syria by training them in places like Libya, for example.
So, really this is very worrying to see journalists who are coming to try to report freely, and they obviously cannot do so without safety being guaranteed because of these armed groups inside the country.
Press TV: There is an interesting poll that was made, Lizzie Phelan, making a comparison between the support for president Bashar al-Assad before the unrest began and then one after.
And this is done by Qatar foundation along with YouGov which at this point says that the support for President Assad has actually grown, ever since news surfaced and confirmed in many respects but mostly, of course the government being vocal that armed terrorists and gangs are responsible for what has occurred and now the support for Assad to have grown.
Is that how you see it? Is that a confirmation of how you have witnessed the Syrians and of course the support for the government there, and of course your views and reflections on this recent poll?
Phelan: Yes, well I have been here in Syria for a few days now and over the past couple of days, of course Assad made another speech yesterday at the university and today again.
I was at the demonstration today where he unexpectedly made a surprise speech and came and joined the people, where he said that he wants very much to be amongst the people, and I witnessed there an outpouring of support for the president.
And of course the United Nations has said that 5000 people have been killed during this conflict, but they have been unable to confirm those reports and of course we know that there has been evidence of very high number of people from the security forces and the military who have also been killed.
And in fact since I have been here I have spoken to a number of people from different areas like, Idlib and Homs and Hama and other areas, who say that, far from them being in favor of the, army that because of the threats of these armed groups, they actually would prefer to see a greater army and security presence, in order to restore the stability to such areas.
Press TV: And if you could tell us, based on some of the encounters that you have had or information in general, what the Syrians think of other countries, in particular we could talk about Qatar maybe, or even the US and other countries like Turkey perhaps, in terms of their roles regarding Syria?
Phelan: Yes, well the countries today that you named, as a foreigner, a lot of Syrian people approach me to express their outrage at the role that countries like Qatar, Turkey and others have played, of course [also] the United States, in supporting the opposition inside the country and there was a lot of evidence to show that they have done so.
In contrast, countries like Russian for example, which has played a much more neutral role, they have been received with a lot of gratitude by the Syrian people.
At the protest today, we saw a number of Iranian flags, Hezbollah flags and Palestine flags as a great expression of solidarity amongst the people towards those nations for supporting them in this time when they perceive that the West and Israel and Qatar and a number of Arab countries are working very hard to create chaos in their country.
And of course there is also a lot of anger toward Qatar in particular because of the coverage actually of Aljazeera, with many people accusing Aljazeera of fabricating reports of violence by the army against the Syrian people.
Press TV: Since, you are mentioning Aljazeera, in general it seems like the media outlets, even as the president said about sixty of them are ramping up these events. But it seems, please tell us if that is your interpretation also, that they’re trying to make what the government says put their words against their words [government’s words against gangs’ words].
Meaning we are telling you this is happening but the government is saying that anything that happens for example this incident that when you brushed with death, it seems like not being on this bus that occurred with one reported being dead, they’re turning around and saying well it’s the government that’s staging this, do you get that feeling?
Phelan: Yes, there is very much apparently complete lack of objectivity, of course, we see very little coverage of the pro-Assad demonstrations in the Western and much of the Arab press.
Whereas, of course there is not to say that there are not problems inside the country and there is not opposition or a desire for change or reform in the country, which of course the government has in the last three speeches by the president indicated that they are very enthusiastic to address those demands.
But in press like Aljazeera and BBC, the Western press for example, there is very much desire just to push the narrative to portray a picture that the vast majority of the Syrian people want regime change.
When in fact from my experience, the evidence from a number of other reports indicate that it is very much not the case and that there is very much divergence of opinions in the country and as you said other polls have indicated, actually a large proportion of support for the government.