London, Asharq Al-Awsat – While the British press continue, for a fourth day, to uncover the huge secrets revealed by the “Guardian” newspaper, with regards to the 3,000 leaked e-mails from the private e-mail address of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as the private e-mail address of Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, head of al-Alam TV and Press TV in Damascus, Hussein Mortada, whose e-mails to al-Assad were intercepted, refused to confirm that the e-mails attributed to him were genuine, but did agree to speak to Asharq Al-Awsat on other issues.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Mortada initially denied the e-mail messages, describing them as media “fabrications” to undermine the al-Assad regime, however the next day – when Asharq Al-Awsat contacted him requesting a photograph to accompany this story – Mortada alluded to the credibility of Bashar and Asma al-Assad’s leaked e-mails. He told Asharq Al-Awsat “as for the e-mails…I cannot confirm or deny [them], I will only talk about myself.”
Mortada went on to say “what about those who killed Zainab al-Hosni and burned her, and then it was revealed that she was alive and in good health? There can be no doubt that some are trading with the truth and reality, and there are no bounds to their lies…Is the claim that I speak on behalf of Hezbollah and Iran more immoral than the lies inciting the Syrian people against one another with fabrications and instigation? Will the magnitude of this campaign [against me] change the truth that I, those involved, and 23 million Syrians know; which is that I am the head of a media bureau, and I do not represent any partisan or official party? I am bound to Iran in the same manner as the relationship between a BBC correspondent and Britain.”
According to the Guardian’s account of e-mail messages sent to al-Assad by a third party, Hassan Mortada allegedly said the following:
It is not in our interest to say that Al-Qaeda is behind the operation because such statements clear the US administration and the Syrian opposition of any responsibility; America is fighting Al-Qaeda and it will condemn the operation.
Based on what we saw from events on the ground yesterday, we have to acknowledge how well orchestrated it was, and we have to say that the US administration, the opposition and the states which infiltrated weapons are behind the operation so that we can start the attack.
But blaming Al-Qaeda alone won’t be in anyone’s interest but Al-Qaeda’s, because the organization has been in existence for decades and this is nothing new. I have even received contacts from Iran and Hezbollah – me being the head of many Iranian and Lebanese media channels – and they directed me not to mention that Al-Qaeda was behind the operation cause it would be a blatant media and tactical mistake and futile.
The matter should be amended with extreme speed and I won’t broadcast on my channels any news related to Al-Qaeda.
This point is in your interest and to help you; please make use of it, Syria.
As for the accusations that he traded e-mails with Bashar al-Assad, Mortada told Asharq Al-Awsat “this is a ridiculous accusation and its objective is clear to all the Syrians, whether opposition or loyalists, I warn against anybody believing such exaggerations where the objective is to portray President al-Assad in an unrealistic and incorrect manner. Those who are promoting this idea have forgotten that the President they are talking about is the same man who shrewdly fought the Bush administration, and emerged victorious against them the following day after the Iraqi invasion. He is the one who fought an international battle in defense of Syria and the resistance during the July War [2006 Lebanon war] and the Gaza war. He is the president who in his wisdom is leading Syria through this crisis to safety, away from civil war and chaos…therefore the core of the issue is not true, and whoever has evidence let them bring it forward. I would personally be honored to carry out correspondence with any Syrian figure, but this did not happen, even on a professional level, we did not even get an interview with President Bashar al-Assad.”
As for why his name appears in the leaked e-mail case, and whether Western media outlets have tried to get in contact with him, he said “they have not called me at all, if they had called me then they would be professionals, so are they [professional]? They are liars and I will take them to court, and if they have any evidence let them bring it to the court where we will bring them to trial in their own country. What the Guardian is publishing has not been verified. Then the Arab and American media followed the Guardian, which did not verify its information in the first place, so is there anything more fraudulent than this?”
Mortada said: “Publishing these emails and describing them as the ultimate truth is like saying that a warship has sunk in the Barada River. Those who do not know Syria do not know that its leadership does not need to take advice from media figures, but rather it is the one that gives advice to those that need it. The problem with the British press is that it is submerged amidst gangs and their supporters in Syria, sometimes even the supporters of Bin Laden.
In response to a question from Asharq al-Awsat about Mortada offering advice to the Syrian President on behalf of Hezbollah and Iran, he said: “No. This is similar to what happened with us [al-Alam TV and Press TV] at the beginning of events. During the first days of the crisis we entered the Daraa region, and we went specifically to the Omari Mosque – on the third day of unrest in Syria – in the accompaniment of Sheikh Ahmed al-Sayasna [Imam of Omari Mosque]. We were then confronted by armed men who told us about elements of Hezbollah speaking Persian and escorting the Sheikh at the Omari Mosque, and by this they meant us and Sheikh al-Sayasna. Since that day we began to hear that Iran was behind the internal opposition”. He added “There is a media machine at work. On October 23rd 2008, Jeffrey Feltman spoke before Congress admitting out loud that his embassy had spent half a billion dollars trying to tarnish the image of Hezbollah, so how much did it cost to accuse Hezbollah of participating in the current Syrian events? This was a cheap opportunity seized upon by the hostile media to implicate the names of Iran and Hezbollah. With regards to those who pay half a billion in Lebanon to tarnish Hezbollah’s reputation, according to Jeffrey Feltman himself, how much will they pay to tarnish the image of Iran, Hezbollah and Syria all together?”
From here, Mortada continued: “they inserted my name because I am Lebanese and I work as the head of Iranian television channels in Damascus, so is there anyone more suitable for their lies than me?”
He explained: “In this context we can add further rumors that do not cease. There has been talk about snipers from Hezbollah being deployed, and that elements of Hezbollah are fighting and hunting down people and civilians. All this indicates that since the early days there have been media fabrications undertaken by a military, security and media machine that runs the crisis in Syria with all that it publishes”.
Regarding his relationship with Hezbollah and Iran, Mortada said: “My relationship with Hezbollah is like the relationship of any media figure with their news sources. As for my relationship with Iran, this is professional. I do not want to repeat myself on this subject, but it is clear that the issue of blaming Iran and Hezbollah comes in this context because the supporters of terrorists and promoters of civil war in Syria have become bankrupt. Now we are a year into the Syrian crisis and they cannot impair the unity of the Syrian people, they cannot impair the Syrian youth, and they cannot achieve any of their goals. Therefore we see that they now want to launch accusations here and there, they want to talk about some Iranians or some individuals from Hezbollah being the ones conducting this crisis. Yet the irony of those who promote such talk is that the whole world knows the Syrian administration is wise, and has enough expertise and knowledge of the reality”.
Mortada said: “I think that [the campaign against me] comes within the framework of fabrication and trying to blame Iran and Hezbollah, especially what has been said about me personally. Everyone knows I am a journalist and head of al-Alam TV and Press TV in Damascus, and I have nothing to do with the world of business…Whoever steals a grain of corn is capable of stealing anything, and whoever lies about my career and transforms me from a media figure into a businessman is capable of lying about all that has been published about me”.
The day before yesterday, the Guardian reported that it was likely that Hadeel al-Ali was the mediator responsible for transferring advice from Iran to al-Assad, and it was she who forwarded Hussein Mortada’s emails onto the Syrian President using his secret email account.