AFP / Getty Images file
A Syrian man wears as a cape his national flag with a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad during a Feb. 14 rally in support of their leader and the army in Damascus.
Syrian President Bashar Assad took advice from Iran on how to handle the uprising against his rule, according to several thousand emails apparently received and sent by the Syrian leader and his wife, the Guardian newspaper of London reported Wednesday.
Assad also received details about Western journalists in Homs and was urged to "tighten the security grip" on the opposition-held city in November, The Guardian said, citing more than 3,000 emails that activists shared with the newspaper after downloading them from private accounts belonging to Assad and his wife, Asma.
The messages were intercepted by members of the opposition Supreme Council of the Revolution group between June and early February, the Guardian said.
The documents emerged on the eve of the rebellion’s first anniversary, a day that also saw Saudi Arabia close its embassy in Damascus and ahead of a United Nations briefing by crisis envoy Kofi Annan, who completed a peace mission to Syria to end violence that has already cost 8,000 lives.
The email messages appear to show Asma spending thousands of dollars over the internet for designer goods such as candlesticks, tables and chandeliers while Assad swapped entertaining internet links on his iPad and downloaded music from iTunes.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama say that there should be a political solution to the violent upheaval in Syria.
The Guardian said it tried to authenticate the emails but could not verify every one.
The emails, according to the Guardian, also appear to show:
• Assad established a network of trusted aides who reported directly to him through his "private" email account – bypassing both his powerful clan and the country's security apparatus.
• Assad made light of reforms he had promised in an attempt to defuse the crisis, referring to "rubbish laws of parties, elections, media".
• A daughter of the emir of Qatar, Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani, this year advised Assad and his wife to leave Syria and suggested Doha may offer them exile.
• Assad sidestepped extensive U.S. sanctions against him by using a third party with a U.S. address to make purchases of music and apps from Apple's iTunes.
• A Dubai-based company, al-Shahba, with a registered office in London is used as a key conduit for Syrian government business and private purchases by the Syrian first lady.
The emails appear to show that Assad received advice from Iran or its proxies ahead of a speech in December, the Guardian said. His media consultant prepared a long list of themes, reporting that the advice was based on "consultations with a good number of people in addition to the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador."
The memo advised the president to use "powerful and violent" language and to show appreciation for support from "friendly states," the Guardian said.
In related developments:
- Annan, will brief the U.N. Security Council on Friday about his peace mission, which diplomats say could breathe new life into stalled talks on a resolution aimed at ending the escalating violence. Council diplomats say Annan'sassessment of the crisis will be crucial to a bid by the United States and its European allies to pass a resolution that would also ensure humanitarian aid workers have access to besieged towns.
- Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday that it had closed its embassy in Syria and withdrawn all diplomats and staff, the Saudi Press Agency reported. A Foreign Ministry statement said the decision was made "in light of the current events in Syria." Several Arab and Western countries have scaled down their diplomatic presence in Syria where President Bashar al-Assad is fighting a year-long revolt against his rule.
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