Western countries have been warned by Syria’s top Sunni Muslim cleric not to interfere with the continuing protests and government crackdowns that have lead to an estimated 5,000 deaths in the country over the past seven months.
In a speech issued late on Sunday evening, Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun said, “I say to Europe, I say to America, we will set up suicide bombers who are now in your countries, if you bomb Syria or Lebanon. From now on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
He added, “Don’t come near our country, I beg you.”
The comments from Hassoun follow weekend violence in the city of Homs and the northwestern province of Idlib that is the worst seen violence in the country since last month.
The Syrian government has held an iron fist with protestors since citizens in the country caught wind of the Arab spring movement and began disputing their government months ago. The government has launched large scale attacks on cities and U.S. officials in the past have called government crackdowns “full-on-warfare” against the Syrian people.
The Syrian government has also been reported as telling its security forces to deal with protestors by “shooting to kill” and a recently published Avaaz report found that 16 children had suffered severe torture in detention before they were killed by the government-backed security forces.
Although Hassoun’s comments illustrate a concern that the United States or European countries may intervene in Syria, overall Western nations have not shown significant interest in launching a NATO-style campaign against the Bashar Assad government, as was done against Col. Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
In fact, NATO’s chief was quoted last week as saying that the military alliance has “no intention whatsoever” to intervene in Syria.
The lack of action on Syria has prompted some political commentators to question the NATO-backed Libya mission that was launched to protect civilians from attacks against their government. At the same time Syrian civilians continue to be targeted and pummeled by their government and little action has been seen on behalf of the international community to protect them.
Some analysts suggest the lack of action is a result of fears that international intervention might propel a civil war and could potentially set the foundation for a wider conflict in the region that would likely involve Iran and Israel.