Syrian leader's wife Asma al-Assad says she rejected asylum offers

Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told Russian television on Tuesday that she had rejected offers of asylum from her husband's opponents.

“Yes, I was offered the opportunity to leave Syria or rather to run from Syria," al-Assad said, in what is thought to be her first interview with a foreign broadcaster since the Syrian crisis began in 2011.

"These offers included guarantees of safety and protection for my children and even financial security," al-Assad, 41, told the state-backed Russian television channel Russia 24.

It is not the first time that attempts to resolve the Syrian crisis by inducing Bashar al-Assad or his family to seek refuge elsewhere have been revealed.

In 2011, US assistant secretary of state Jeffrey Feltman told lawmakers that Arab states were offering the Syrian leader asylum, although he did not name them.

A leaked email published by the British Guardian newspaper in 2012 appeared to show the daughter of the ruler of Qatar suggesting to Asma al-Assad that her family should seek refuge and might be able to turn to Doha.

But Asma al-Assad told Russia 24 that the offers she had received were deliberate attempts "to shatter people’s confidence in their president."

"I’ve been here since the beginning and I never thought of being anywhere else at all,” al-Assad, who grew up in London and holds British as well as Syrian citizenship, said.

Asked about the situation in Aleppo, where up to 300,000 people besieged by her husband's soldiers, al-Assad deflected the question to point the finger at Western media.

"Ironically western media organizations have chosen solely to focus on the plight of refugees and those caught in rebel-held areas," she argued, "whereas in fact the vast majority of people displaced are living across the rest of the country."

The first lady said that her family was affected just as any other family in Syria's conflict, which slowly turned into an all-out civil war in 2011-2012 after security forces brutally repressed initially peaceful protests.

“There is not a family in Syria that has not lost a loved one,” she said. “Today parents are attending the funerals of their children rather than their weddings.”

Al-Assad referred to the death of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy whose body was washed up on the Turkish coast after an attempt to make the sea crossing to Greece, and to Omran Daqneesh who was pictured, bloodied, in an ambulance seat after an airstrike on rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

"Alan was a Syrian child irrespective of what his parents believed as was Omran and the other innocent children...these are all children and they are all innocent," she said.  

Al-Assad's last interview with foreign media appears to have been with fashion magazine Vogue. The article, which called her "a rose of the desert" and lauded her modern attitudes and democratic approach to family life, was published in March 2011, just before protests broke out in southern and western Syria.

The magazine later removed the article down from its website.

Al-Assad, a former investment banker, was born and raised in London. She was married to Bashar six months after he assumed the presidency in July 2000, following the death of his father Hafez.

She is the mother of three children: two sons and a girl. 

The interview with Asma al-Assad came as Russia and Syria announed the halting of airstrikes on the Syrian city of Aleppo  to give civilians and militants a chance to leave rebel-held districts which have been under siege by regime forces since July.

Last update: Wed, 19/10/2016 - 00:01

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