ANTAKYA, Turkey - Syria's opposition says the United States must overcome its fear of Islamists among the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, and start arming the resistance movement to show it wants the entire ruling elite removed.

Islamists are among the most effective fighters against the Syrian leadership, some opposition figures said, and Washington needs to know that while these rebels are conservative Muslims they are a far cry from Afghan-style jihadi militants.

Frustration is growing that the United States will not supply weapons to the rebels, who have largely used small arms during the 16-month uprising against Assad and a state apparatus dominated by members of his Alawite minority.

"We have been kissing the hand of the United States and the rest of the world for the 16 months to intervene. Now, after Assad spared no one in Syria, the United States is surprised that al-Qaida may be operating in the country," veteran opposition campaigner Fawaz al-Tello said from Istanbul.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger