Rome, Italy – Six and a half years into the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, General Issam Zahreddine, infamous for overseeing the suffocating three-year siege of Deir Az Zor, was killed by a landmine.
He died in October 2017, when his vehicle hit an explosive in Hawija Saqr during the government’s military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
For supporters of the Syrian opposition, Zahreddine was the “butcher of Deir Az Zor” and a leading culprit behind widespread torture that allegedly took place at the hands of authorities.
For government backers, however, the general and Assad administration represent a fortress against the ethnic and religious sectarianism of a conflict which has provided few viable alternatives.
In May 2016, months before his death, photos circulated on social media appeared to depict Zahreddine posing next to the severed remains of people who were killed, sliced up and left hanging.
|Issam Zahreddine allegedly posing next to mutilated corpses [Screenshot from social media]|
Yet outside Syria, from North America to Europe, some of Assad’s most vocal supporters come from the far right.
Days after Zahreddine’s death, posters mourning the general appeared across Italian cities and towns, according to a report [Italian] by the Italian daily, La Stampa.
Those posters were printed by CasaPound, a self-proclaimed fascist party and one of many far-right groups worldwide that support Assad’s government.
Along with Italy’s far-right Forza Nuova, Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn, the UK’s British National Party (BNP) and Poland’s ultra-nationalist National Rebirth, among others, CasaPound is part of an international front rallying on behalf of the Syrian president and sending solidarity delegations to the war-ravaged country.
Syria’s conflict, which started as a mass uprising against Assad’s rule in March 2011, quickly morphed into a full-fledged civil war and has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
Throughout that war, both government forces and their allies and armed opposition groups have been accused of war crimes and human rights violations.
More than a million Syrians have received or requested asylum in Europe, where rising far-right parties and populist groups have regularly rallied against their presence.
Sitting in neatly organised conference room in CasaPound’s headquarters, a municipal building the group squatted 14 years ago, the party’s prime ministerial candidate in the upcoming elections, Simone Di Stefano, boasted of their relationship with the Syrian government.
“Under the Assad regime, people can celebrate Christmas openly and women are not forced to wear a headscarf,” Di Stefano told Al Jazeera, echoing common pro-Assad talki