West is arming Syrian rebels - Kerry
Syrian rebels head to the town of Bsankol in the northwestern province of Idlib to join comrades fighting regime forces for the control of the highway that connects Idlib with Latakia on July 11, 2013. (AFP)
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Western and Arab states have been providing arms to Syrian rebels, US officials said on Wednesday, pledging Washington’s ongoing support for opposition forces.
During a joint press conference with Jordianian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, US Secretary of State John Kerry revealed that members of the so-called “Friends of Syria” 11-country group have been fulfilling pledges made earlier this month to up arms to opposition forces by providing weapons and munitions to rebel forces.
“[Free Syrian Army General Salem] Idris has felt at times that they needed more weaponry and ammunition… There are partners in the so-called Friends of Syria who have been providing a lot of that,” Kerry told reporters.
Kerry declined to specify the types or amount of arms being transferred to rebel forces, adding only that Washington and its allies are continuing “significant support” to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in its widening battle against Damascus and its allies Iran and Hezbollah.
The Friends of Syria group, which comprises France, the US, the UK, Germany, Turkey, the UAE, Jordan, Qatar, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Egypt has repeatedly pledged to provide increased military and financial assistance to “moderate” rebel groups fighting within Syria, namely the Free Syrian Army.
Washington’s top diplomat admitted that efforts to up arms supplies to rebel forces have faced delays in recent weeks, obstacles he attributed to logistics and the need for congressional approval.
“I believe they are getting very significant assistance, but unfortunately sometimes it takes longer than you like,” Kerry said.
“The fact is I am confident about the support the Syrian opposition has been receiving and will continue to receive in the days ahead.”
Kerry’s statements come amid growing claims by rebel commanders that the West and Arab states have failed to live up to recent pledges to provide opposition forces with heavy artillery they believe is necessary in order to push back a crushing regime offensive.
According to rebel officials, several FSA commanders walked out on a recent gathering of the Higher Military Council in Amman earlier this month upon learning that opposition forces have yet to receive military aid pledged by the Friends of Syria group, Kerry and most recently US President Barack Obama.
“Officials talk and talk about providing military aid to the opposition, but we have yet to see a single bullet cross into Syria,” says rebel leader Abu George Al Jolani, who claims that half of his 800-strong FSA battalion have been left without rifles as they face growing Hezbollah forces in the Damascene countryside.
“We cannot defend our land and our people with broken promises.”
Despite being equipped with automatic rifles, FSA commanders say many of their fighters lack bullets, food supplies and even shoes.
In light of a sweeping military campaign that has seen Damascus retake over 30 towns and villages in less than a month, rebel officials have called for the “urgent supply” of anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery in order to defend themselves against the regime’s relentless air and ground attacks.
Despite pledges by Friends of Syria states to provide heavy arms during a Doha summit last month, rebel officials claim to have received only a small portion of light arms and bullets that had previously flowed into Syria from Turkey.
Jordanian military officials have denied media reports of a growing arms flow from Jordan, with authorities continuing their months-long crackdown on weapons smuggling over the 370-kilometre shared border.
By Taylor Luck
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