Russia: US drive to arm Syria rebels hurts chance for peace

By REUTERS
July 24, 2013 16:55

Lavrov: If "our American partners" are focusing on arming opposition, this runs against agreements to hold a conference.

3 minute read.



A Free Syrian Army fighter in Yarmouk refugee camp

A Free Syrian Army fighter in Yarmouk refugee camp 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

MOSCOW - Russia accused the United States on Wednesday of stalling chances for peace in Syria by pressing ahead with plans to arm rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Assad.

Russia is at loggerheads over the conflict with its United Nations Security Council partner, the United States, where President Barack Obama can now move forward with arming rebels after easing some congressional concerns.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a press conference that Washington's plans would undermine joint efforts to organize an international peace conference on Syria that he agreed to with his US counterpart, John Kerry, in May.

"If our American partners are now focusing on arming the opposition and are sharing plans... to strike Syrian government positions, then this, of course, runs against agreements to hold a conference," he said.

"That goes against our joint initiative."

The chances of bringing Syria's divided opposition and Assad's representatives to the negotiating table have faded in recent weeks, and help from Hezbollah has tilted the situation on the ground in Assad's favor.

More support from the United States could help the rebels push back. US forces could help in various ways, the top US military officer has said, from training to enforcing no-fly zones or conducting limited attacks on military targets.

CIVILIANS TRAPPED

The Red Cross has accused Syrian authorities of blocking access to the old city of Homs, where trapped civilians are in dire need of food and medical supplies.

"We have been trying for close to 20 days now to bring medical supplies and other aid to the old city of Homs," Magne Barth, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Syria, said in a statement Wednesday.

"Despite lengthy negotiations with both sides, and three trips back and forth between Damascus and Homs, we have still not received the go-ahead from the Syrian authorities," he said.

REBEL SUPPORT

Meanwhile, Qatar's new emir will keep helping Syrian rebels until Assad's rule ends, Syria's opposition envoy to Doha said Wednesday, seeking to dampen speculation the rich Gulf state had scaled back its role in supporting the revolt.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has not made a detailed statement of foreign policy priorities following his accession last month, and some analysts have speculated the country is rethinking its backing for Arab Spring rebellions.

Under the previous emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the tiny Gulf state had been among the most prominent regional backers of Syria's rebels, providing them with military and financial support and calling for an Arab force to end bloodshed if international diplomatic efforts fail.

Nizar al-Haraki, ambassador of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) to Doha, told Reuters that Qatar would continue to support the coalition despite Sheikh Hamad's abdication.

"I met with Sheikh Tamim and congratulated him on his new role as emir, and I expressed the importance of continuing support to Syria and he told me that Qatar will continue to support Syria," Haraki said in a telephone interview.

Haraki declined to be drawn on whether Qatar specifically was continuing to supply weapons to Syrian rebels groups, but said a number of Arab countries were providing military support. He said he had no details on the equipment that was being sent.

He added that proof of continuing Qatari assistance came a few days ago when Qatar gave $5 million to the SNC to purchase humanitarian aid supplies.

Moreover the newly-elected leader of the SNC, Ahmad al-Jarba, is planning to visit Qatar within days to coordinate aid supplies, Haraki added.

Last week, Jarba met Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz in the kingdom. No official details were released about that meeting.

In recent months, dominant Gulf Arab power Saudi Arabia has prevailed over Qatar to impose itself as the main outside force supporting the Syrian rebels, a move that may curb the influence of Qatari-backed Islamist militants.

Haraki said in answer to a question that he did not expect Jabra's visit to Qatar to cause diplomatic friction between the SNC and Saudi Arabia.

"Qatar and Saudi Arabia are both brotherly countries and have good relations and there are no sensitivities about al-Jarba coming to Doha," he said.


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