Monday 22 January 2018

Rebels in Syria to get arms from US 'within a month'

A Free Syrian Army fighter runs to take cover in Qaboun area in Damascus. Photo: Reuters
A Free Syrian Army fighter runs to take cover in Qaboun area in Damascus. Photo: Reuters

Damien McElroy

The United States plans to start supplying arms directly to Syrian rebels within a month, US officials said, as it emerged that the CIA has begun shipping weapons to a secret network of warehouses in neighbouring Jordan.

Leaked CIA plans disclose that Washington will despatch arms from Jordan to specially vetted groups in the Free Syrian Army in coordination with European and Arab allies.

The "parallel push" will see backers of Syrian rebels provide training and arms deliveries to the rebel forces deemed moderate and separate from al-Qa'ida-linked forces.

The arms supplies are intended to be in the hands of the rebels before an offensive against Bashar al-Assad's regime is launched in early August, according to the 'Wall Street Journal'.

US deliveries so far include light weapons and anti-tank missiles but talks are underway with the French to send more supplies from Europe.

Saudi Arabia has promised to despatch up to 20 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, capable of taking down regime fighter jets in a controlled and managed process.

A CIA vetting procedure for those groups that are given weapons is the lynchpin of the US approach. Officials said it was vital to bolster moderate groups so that they can blunt the appeal of the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qa'ida linked group that has grown to dominate the battle against Assad.

"Numbers are an issue," a counter-terrorism official told the 'Journal'. "Al-Nusra has added thousands of fighters in the past year. We are going to have to outpace that."

The development comes after Washington determined the Assad regime had used chemical weapons against its opponents.

UN inspectors who have been blocked from entering Syria moved into Turkey yesterday to compile evidence of chemical weapons attacks. The team will be unable to gather soil samples or scientific evidence needed to prove chemical use, but could compile intelligence and interview or take blood samples from witnesses or victims of alleged attacks.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, signalled growing acceptance of plans for European involvement in arming the rebels, conceding that "anyone with a heart" could understand Western countries wanting to help Syrian rebels.

"In this desperate situation, which is increasingly threatening the entire region, surely each of us can understand that our friends and partners the US, Britain and France are considering helping parts of the Syrian opposition with weapons shipments," she said.

"But surely the desire to take an effective stand against the killing in Syria and to put an end to the Assad regime's activities can be understood by everyone – at least by anyone with a heart."

OPPOSTION

British officials have said Whitehall is not close to taking a decision on providing arms to the rebels and the government face substantial opposition in parliament, which has been promised a vote on a decision to send weapons.

Distinguishing good rebels from bad has become a major focus for Western planners, a task not helped by a steady stream of evidence of atrocities by the rebels.

New video has emerged of foreign fighters beheading civilians accused of collaborating with the Assad regime. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels, who spoke in classical Arabic with an accent, may have been Chechen.

The beheading was caught on video and posted on YouTube. The civilians were captured in Khan al-Assal, a town west of Aleppo, according to one of the rebels. The Observatory said it was unable to verify the location. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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