Sunday 25 February 2018

Americans move to arm Syria rebels after crucial Assad win

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, postponed a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories to hold intensive talks with US President Barack Obama
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, postponed a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories to hold intensive talks with US President Barack Obama

Richard Spencer in Cairo

Moves to arm Syria's opposition have been accelerated in the US following a key defeat for the rebels and a major split in the ranks of al-Qa'ida- aligned jihadists, Washington officials indicated yesterday.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, postponed a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories to hold intensive talks with US President Barack Obama on the next steps in the Syria crisis.

Officials told American news outlets that the administration was considering not only arming the rebels directly but even imposing a no-fly zone on the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

State and defence officials, the CIA and other agencies met yesterday to draw up new options for Mr Obama. A State Department spokesman said Mr Obama would consider a "wider range of options" this week.

"Conditions on the ground have worsened. That is frankly concerning," she added.

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, was also being updated, one report said, though the Foreign Office refused to confirm this. Western governments, keen to organise a peace conference to bring the war to a close, have been alarmed by a recent collapse in opposition morale.

The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition is in disarray, and has admitted that it could not consider attending a conference while rebel groups were on the back foot.

Last week, rebels were defeated in the western town of Qusayr, and regime troops are now moving on Aleppo and rebel-held districts of Homs.

"The pace at which the US government appears to be moving towards harder support for the rebels is much faster than has been their recently slackened push to make Geneva happen in the very near future," said Dan Layman, a spokesman for the Syria Support Group, a pro-opposition US-based group.

JIHADISTS

British and American support for the Geneva conference was intended to bring Mr Assad to the negotiating table after a string of rebel gains earlier in the year.

Since then, he has reversed the tide and is now in a position where, they fear, he could resist calls for concessions.

The main resistance to arming the rebels in both the US and Britain comes from those who fear heavy weapons will end up in the hands of al-Qa'ida-linked groups, but the US believes it can now much more effectively control the supply.

The jihadists were also condemned by the main opposition group after reports that they executed a 14-year-old boy for blasphemy. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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