Emily Thornberry: Bashar al-Assad's popularity in Syria has been 'underestimated'
Support for the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad may have been "underestimated", Emily Thornberry has claimed.
In surprising comments, the Shadow Foreign Secretary cast doubt on whether Assad is "as overwhelmingly unpopular as the rebels told the West".
Around 400,000 Syrians have died in the bloody seven-year civil war in Syria, according to UN estimates, with Amnesty International claiming that up to 13,000 citizens have been killed in state-run military prisons alone.
The Assad regime, which is backed by Russia, has also been accused of using chemical weapons against his own people, most recently in the rebel-held city of Douma, which led to the deaths of dozens of civilians.
That led to the UK joining America and France launching air strikes on chemical weapons sites in the country.
But in an interview with Prospect Magazine, Ms Thornberry suggested that President Assad may have a stronger support base in his country than is sometimes portrayed.
The Labour frontbencher said: "There is an argument that if [President Bashar al-Assad] had been as overwhelmingly unpopular as the rebels told the West at the outset then he wouldn't be there. I think there has been a depth and breadth of support for Assad that has been underestimated."
Elsewhere in the interview Ms Thornberry also refused to condemn Russia for repeatedly vetoing UN Security Council resolutions aimed at ending the civil war in Syria.
She said: "People will always block resolutions. If you look at the number of resolutions America has blocked, I mean that’s the way of politics."
Kristyan Benedict, the UK campaigns manager for Amnesty International, attacked the Labour frontbencher on Twitter.
A furious political row erupted over Theresa May's decision to launch military action on Syria last month.
Jeremy Corbyn accused the Prime Minister of "taking instructions from Washington and putting British military personnel in harm’s way" and repeatedly stopped short of blaming Assad for the Douma atrocity.