BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Syrian envoy said Al Jazeera’s interview with the leader of Nusra Front violated U.N. counterterrorism resolutions and was an attempt by Qatar to whitewash the image of the al Qaeda affiliate, Syria’s state news agency reported on Thursday.
The Qatari-funded network broadcast the first part of an interview with Nusra leader Mohamad al-Golani late on Wednesday. He said the group’s focus was to capture the Syrian capital Damascus and topple President Bashar al-Assad, and not aim for Western targets.
Syria’s United Nations ambassador, Bashar al-Jaafari, said the interview was used “to promote terrorism and make threats to the government and people in Syria,” SANA agency said, quoting remarks made before the U.N. Security Council in New York.
“It is clear that the Qatari regime is seeking with this interview, with the head of a terrorist group as listed by the U.N. Security Council, to clean up the image of Nusra Front,” he added. Al Jazeera had no immediate comment.
Nusra Front is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and has been sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council.
In his interview Golani said members of the Alawite minority sect, of which Assad is a member, should renounce the Syrian leader, their beliefs and lay down weapons in order to be safe.
It was not clear where and when the interview was filmed. Golani’s face was not shown and a black flag used by Nusra Front was placed on a table between him and the interviewer.
In his remarks, Jaafari criticized journalists “who infiltrate Syria illegally by crossing borders” with neighboring countries.
A Western diplomat in the Qatari capital Doha said there was a new push by the Gulf Arab state to present Nusra to the Arab world as a Syrian national movement and that the Golani interview appeared to be a step towards that.
Golani said in the interview that his group received no foreign state support. Nusra Front’s main insurgent rival, al Qaeda offshoot Islamic State, has a notable number of foreign fighters and holds about half Suria’s territory after four years of armed conflict, according to a monitoring group.
Nusra Front has advanced in northwestern Syria alongside other insurgent groups in recent weeks, seizing the city of Idlib, the town of Jisr al-Shughour and bringing them closer to government-held coastal areas north of the capital.
It is a major force against government forces and allied militia around the northern city of Aleppo. Nusra Front is also fighting in southern Syria and its combatants have frequently clashed with Islamic State.
Reporting by Sylvia Westall in Beirut and Amena Bakr in Doha; Editing by Mark Heinrich