Report: Assad Fires Minister for Allowing Israeli Journalist to Tour Syria

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FILE PHOTO: Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks to Syrian diplomats, in Damascus, Syria.
FILE PHOTO: Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks to Syrian diplomats, in Damascus, Syria. Credit: /AP

Syrian President Bashar Assad fired one of his government ministers for including an Israeli journalist along on a media tour of government-held areas in Syria last April, al Arabiya reported Tuesday.

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Assad fired Mohammed Tourjeman, Minister of Information, for the apparently accidental inclusion of Jonathan Spyer, who holds dual British and Israeli citizenship on the tour. A Jerusalem-based freelance journalist, who also works as researcher at an Israeli think tank, Spyer has reported from Syria and Iraq several times since the conflicts broke out.  

Spyer even posed for a photo with Tourjeman and his colleague, Minister of Reconciliation Ali Haidar during the tour in Damascus in April 2017. Behind them hung a portrait of Assad.

Jonathan Spyer photographed with Syrian Minister of Reconciliation Ali Haidar and Minister of Information, Mohammed Tourjeman in Damascus in April 2017.Credit: courtesy of Jonathan Spyer

In an interview with The Times of Israel published in November that may have been what tipped off the Syrians for the first time of his Israeli identity, Spyer recounted the moment he feared his Israeli citizenship would be uncovered. It was during a stop on the tour in Aleppo when a British colleague joked there was a "Zionist" in their midst. But the colleague had not realized Spyer was Israeli and it turns out the comment was his version of a joke.

Spyer said in the interview he used what he described as a "false identity" to join the trip.

He also said he knew that being exposed as an Israeli would have meant putting his life in danger as he could have been taken for an Israeli agent. He said in Syria that officials are jittery that the regime could be infiltrated by Israeli spies. 

But, Spyer, asked, “Who wants to think that because of your citizenship, you can’t cover what you regard as the most important story of the 21st century?"

Spyer recently published a book, “Days of the Fall: A Reporter’s Journey in the Syria and Iraq Wars" which documents the conflicts and his experiences covering them.

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