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According to Paulo, the members of the opposition who started the protests against the government of Bashar al-Assad during the so-called Arab Spring, starting in December 2010, no longer have direct participation in the conflict. PHOTO: Reproduction / Facebook Vanessa Beeley

At the head of the international and independent commission appointed by the United Nations (UN) to investigate human rights violations in Syria, political scientist Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro has no doubts: the members of the opposition who started the protests against the government of Bashar al -Assad during the so-called Arab Spring, from December 2010, no longer have direct participation in the conflict. “Either they are dead or imprisoned or refugees. There is no civil opposition. There are only armed, militarized groups. What started with protests against the government turned in 2012 into a very militarized conflict,” said Pinheiro in São Paulo, where he lives and receives reports from a wide range of sources, including representatives of armed groups and white helmets, as the local volunteers who provide first aid to victims.

Convinced that there is no moderate armed group, Pinheiro believes that the only way out of the conflict is negotiation. For the political scientist, the government's retaking of the eastern part of the city of Aleppo does not mean the end of the war: “The armed groups, which are among the cruelest in that region, will continue to fight the Assad government. They leave Aleppo, but they will continue to fight”. In an interview with Brazilian, he said that he cautiously receives news circulating on social media that in Syria there are women killing each other to escape rape: “Not everything that is coming out on social media corresponds to the truth. Of course, among refugees there is a problem with early marriages, rape of teenagers and forced labor, but wanting to complete the horror of the war in Aleppo with these details… In fact, nobody knows.”

In August 2012, when the political scientist was already heading the commission appointed by the UN, the Brazilian published a cover story about his work, entitled Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the Peacemaker.

Brasileiros – How do you, who has been following the conflict in Syria since the beginning, analyze the situation in Aleppo?
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro – Since October the situation has only deteriorated. The negotiations themselves were paralyzed and the situation also worsened due to the intensity of the attacks by the Syrian government, with the support of Russian aviation and also other forces on the ground, such as Hezbollah. They simply worsened the situation in the eastern part of the city. When I say Aleppo, I'm talking about the city, not the province. So you also have to keep in mind that there is the West Aleppo region, which has always been controlled by the Syrian government.

B – The part controlled by the government? 
PSP - Yes, by the government of Syria. The point is that there is total misinformation about who this brave armed opposition is that the United States calls moderate groups. There is no moderated group. These groups are associated with the organization that was once Al Nusra, now the branch called Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, which is exactly the branch of Al-Qaeda, although they make an effort to say they are not. And these armed groups were indiscriminately attacking – they don't have aviation, but they have mortars – the civilian population of West Aleppo.

B – The Jabhat Fatah al-Sham?
PSP - That's right, but there are other groups as well. All these groups participate in this front. Al-Sham is considered by the UN Security Council a terrorist organization, as is the Islamic State. It is these groups that were fighting in East Aleppo.

B – With support from the United States.
PSP - And with the support of the United Kingdom, France and, of course, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar. Anyway, the whole front against the Assad government. These groups, much of the time, take refuge in the civilian population.

B – Do you take refuge?
PSP - They stay inside housing or even put weapons in schools. In doing so, they turn these schools into legitimate military targets, which is a grotesque thing. And also preventing the civilian population, who wanted to leave East Aleppo. The news is totally uninformed and only gives the official version of the countries and the front against the Assad government. There are no innocents. There is no innocent. Everyone bears responsibility for the horrors that took place in East Aleppo.

B - May still be occurring?
PSP - It has now subsided. With the government in control, the issue is only in the humanitarian debate, but recently several buses were set on fire. They were buses that would transport inhabitants out of East Aleppo.

B – Has President Assad gotten stronger?
PSP - It was an important attempt to defeat these groups in East Aleppo. What needs to be clear is that the opposition members who started the Arab Spring-type movement are either dead or imprisoned or are refugees. There is no civil opposition. There are only armed, militarized groups. I mean, what started with protests against the government turned in 2012 into a very militarized conflict. Then, in another stage, of greater involvement of regional forces, and the last circle with the involvement of the powers, the permanent members of the Security Council. On the one hand, the United States, France and the United Kingdom. On the other side, Russia and China, which is not directly involved in the armed conflict, but supports the Russian position.

B – Which is in favor of Assad.
PSP - Support is cool. In fact, Syria is a member state of the UN and the organization's letter authorizes, in cases of threat, to request the support of another member state. So this has a certain legality. The presence of the other powers has no legality whatsoever. It's all absolutely illegal.

B – Do these other powers support the rebel groups?
PSP - Exactly. And these rebel groups are allied with a terrorist organization. I'm not talking about the Islamic State. The Islamic State is another story. It is in another part of Syria's territory.

B – Are you also one of the protagonists of the conflict?
PSP - Certainly. Not in the case of Aleppo. It is one of the protagonists of the conflict because the coalition around the United States is attacking the Islamic State, but also Russia and Syria are attacking. Not to mention the Kurds, who also attack the Islamic State.

B – Is there an exit in sight?
PSP - The only way out is a negotiated way out. This Assad victory is a Pyrrhic victory. It does not mean the end of the war. These armed groups, allied with the terrorists, who are among the most vicious in that region, will continue to fight the Assad government. I don't know if the West will continue to support it. They have resources. They leave Aleppo, but they will continue to fight.

B – They keep circulating information on social networks and newspapers that women are killing each other in the conflict region to avoid being raped.
PSP - I would take this with some sobriety. It is evident that borderline cases may have occurred, but believe everything… Not everything that is coming out on social networks corresponds to the truth. Of course, among refugees there is a problem with early marriages, rape of teenagers and forced labor, but wanting to complete the horror of the war in Aleppo with these details… In fact, nobody knows. Neither are we who are there. The information we have, except when it comes from Unicef ​​or the High Commissioner for Refugees, is all from civil society organizations linked to the opposition to the Assad government. Although some of them are serious, of doing good surveys, none are very interested in showing moderation in the conflict.

B – Do the sources for the reports you prepare on the conflict still come from the area of ​​the conflict?
PSP - They remain the same. We received information from the interior of Aleppo. At the end of January we will release a special report that the UN Human Rights Council asked us to do on Aleppo. But it's the same thing. People leaving. They are doctors, nurses, white helmets (local volunteers who provide first aid services) and also members of armed groups. We spoke to governments on both sides.

B – Also with the groups considered terrorists?
PSP - We talk to everyone. No one escapes but the Islamic State. Our only limit is not talking to the Islamic State or that branch of al-Qaeda, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. Now we speak to those who struggle with them. And with the groups themselves, who always have envoys in countries in the region. We also spoke with all opposition organizations linked to lifting violations. We don't take sides. We have no side. It is a difficult exercise, but we have managed to do it.

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