independent

Friday 18 April 2014

We've been left to die, say Syrian rebels

David Cameron: accused of betraying rebels

Syria's top rebel commander accused Britain of betrayal last night after it abandoned plans to arm the Syrian opposition.

Gen Salim Idris, the head of the Free Syrian Army, said the decision would "leave us alone to be killed" by President Bashar al-Assad, and pave the way for al-Qa'ida to dominate the rebel ranks.

Mr Idris hit out after Downing Street confirmed that UK prime minister Cameron had ruled out arming the opposition on advice from the British military.

The government had previously hinted that it was strongly considering it, successfully lobbying two months ago for an end to the European Union arms embargo.

But military chiefs at the National Security Council are understood to have warned Downing Street that the conflict was now too advanced for basic weapons supplies to make much difference. They said that could only be achieved by a much larger-scale intervention, involving jet strikes on regime air defences and bases, which Britain has already ruled out. Instead, Britain will draw up plans to train moderate rebel units and continue supplying "non-lethal" items such as body armour and communications equipment.

The British change of heart was greeted with fury by Mr Idris, whose organisation is one of the main moderate rebel groups fighting Mr Assad. It has spent much of the last two years trying to persuade the West to give it military backing.

"The West promises and promises. This is a joke now," Mr Idris said, the anger clear in his voice. "I have not had the opportunity to ask David Cameron personally if he will leave us alone to be killed. On behalf of all the Syrians, thank you very much."

The move comes amid growing signs that the Syrian conflict is now turning in Mr Assad's favour. Yesterday, Syrian troops moved into the rebel-held Qaboun district of Damascus, stepping up efforts to drive the opposition from the capital.

Backed by fighters from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, Syrian forces have also captured a number of key towns from the rebels, who have complained that foreign weapons supplies have all but dried up.

"What are our friends in the West waiting for?" asked Mr Idris. "For Iran and Hezbollah to kill all the Syrian people?"(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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