Wednesday 24 January 2018

US under pressure to arm rebels in Syria

Peter Foster and Ruth Sherlock in Washington

SYRIAN rebels have held meetings with senior US government officials in Washington as pressure mounts on America to authorise a shipment of heavy weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, to combat the Assad regime.

A senior representative of the Free Syrian Army met Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria, and Frederick Hoff, special co-ordinator for the Middle East, in the past week at the US State Department, sources have confirmed.

The rebel emissaries, armed with an iPad showing detailed plans on Google Earth identifying rebel positions and regime targets, have also met senior members of the National Security Council, which advises US President Barack Obama on national security policy.

The rebels have compiled a "targeted list" of heavy weaponry, including anti-tank missiles and heavy machineguns, that they plan to present to US government officials in the coming weeks.

The consultations come before next week's G20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, where British and US officials are expected to make a last-ditch attempt to get Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to intervene in the Syria crisis.

Privately, Western diplomats admit they now harbour scant hopes of forcing a change of heart on Russia, which has steadfastly refused to bow to US and British pressure to do more to arrest Syria's slide into sectarian civil war.

While there remains little appetite for direct Western military intervention, advanced contingency plans are in place to supply arms to the rebels.

The move towards what was described as a "Libya lite" intervention in Syria is expected to gather force following the expected failure of the UN peace plan and the meeting of the Syria Contact Group scheduled for June 30 in Geneva.

Middle Eastern diplomatic sources said Libyan-supplied weapons, paid for by Saudi Arabia and Qatari government funds and private donations, had been stockpiled in expectation of "inevitable" intervention. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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