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Syrian Opposition Head: We Need Weapons to Beat Assad

During a visit to Washington, Syrian opposition leader says rebels need "efficient weapons" to deal with Assad.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 5/8/2014, 4:16 AM

Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Jarba
Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Jarba
Reuters

The leader of the Syrian opposition said on Wednesday that rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Al-Assad need weapons, AFP reported.

Speaking at the start of his first official visit to Washington, Ahmad Jarba told a local think-tank that opposition forces need "efficient weapons to face these attacks including air raids, so we can change the balance of power on the ground."

This would "open the door for a real political solution," he insisted, committing his Syrian National Coalition to ensuring that any weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles would not fall into the wrong hands.

Jarba also denounced as a "farce" plans by Assad to stand for re-election in polls set for next month, saying it would give him "a license ... to kill his own people for many years to come."

"He wants to run for office on the dead bodies of the Syrians," Jarba told the U.S. Institute of Peace, according to AFP. The comments came on the eve of his talks with Secretary of State John Kerry as well as other senior White House and Pentagon officials.

In a bid to show a united opposition front, he is accompanied by the new chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Brigadier General Abdelilah al-Bashir who took over at the head of the military arm after a bitter power tussle with former head General Selim Idriss.

So far, there has been reluctance to arm even the Syrian rebels who are considered “moderate”, with U.S. lawmakers concerned that the weapons could reach factions like the jihadsit Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Rebels said back in June of 2013 they had received Russian-made “Konkurs” anti-tank missiles supplied by Saudi Arabia. Other reports said that the Central Intelligence Agency had begun moving weapons to Jordan from a network of secret warehouses and plans to start arming small groups of vetted Syrian rebels within a month.

In March, it was reported that the Obama administration was considering allowing shipments of new air defense systems to Syrian rebels.

Also in March, Syria's opposition called for "sophisticated" arms at an Arab summit in Kuwait. At the same summit, Saudi Arabia stressed the need for a change in military balance to "end the impasse".

In the past three years some 10 million people had been displaced from their homes in Syria, many of them fleeing abroad, while some 200,000 people had been killed, Jarba maintained.

Jarba’s comments on Wednesday came as the rebels began to evacuate what had been their stronghold of Homs, under an unprecedented deal that hands the city and its shelled-out ruins back to the regime.

Jarba admitted Homs was "a very important symbol for the Syrian revolution" in which the "inhabitants gave everything."

But its loss was "not the end of the world," he said, adding that what was important was to save lives and "in all battles you have a rhythm" and the rebels would win the city back.

Jarba also stressed Syrians were not calling on the United States or the West "to send their sons to Syria" to fight as in past wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"We do not want Americans to die in Syria," he insisted, according to AFP.

But "we do have a problem with the air forces, the air raids and the barrel bombs. This is making our lives a nightmare,” he added.

"We do need effective and efficient weapons... and we commit to keep them in the right hands," said Jarba.