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Syrians welcome U.S. help, but they want big guns

June 14, 2013 Ahmed Kwider, Special for USA TODAY The […]

14 June 2013

June 14, 2013

Ahmed Kwider, Special for USA TODAY

The original story published in USA Today is here.

AMMAN, Jordan — Syrian rebels, desperate for arms, said they are grateful to the United States for jumping into the fray as the Assad regime continues its steady stream of victories against opposition forces.

“We hope that arming us results in us immediately resisting the assaults of the regime and Hezbollah militia on civilian areas,” said Louai Mikdad, a Free Syrian Army spokesman based in Turkey. “Thousands of civilians might be killed due to the regime’s use of their air force, ballistic missiles and chemical weapons.”

The decision to provide rebels with weapons came after the U.S. administration concluded that the troops of President Bashar Assad have used chemical weapons against the rebel forces in the civil war.

“Let the Americans come to the rebels’ front lines and see the assistance the rebels have received,” said Abu Said, 35, part of the Revolution Council in Outer Damascus. “Forget about anti-aircraft weaponry, machine guns and light arms – there aren’t even bullets or RPG shells, and when there are, the rebels can’t afford them.”

The Obama administration intends to supply small arms and ammunition to the rebels, according to several U.S. news media reports. The FSA has appealed to the United States for far more advanced weapons, such as antiaircraft or antitank weapons, specifically in the Golan, an area rebels are attempting to liberate from the government army.

President Obama has been restrained in its response to the uprising against the Assad regime. When the conflict broke out in March 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed the United States wouldn’t enter the conflict in Syria the way it had in Libya because members of Congress believe Assad is a reformer.

In August, Obama said that if the regime used chemical weapons against rebels, it would cross a “red line” that would force him to rethink his stance. News of such an incident came out in April, and France and Israel said the reports of a chemical attack killing dozens of people appeared genuine.

“As he said, the chemical weapons are a red line, and chemical weapons are now in use,” said Hozan Ibrahim a Syrian activist based in Berlin. “They use it first of all in small areas just scattered, just to see if the international community will react. If they get no reactions, they start using it extensively.

“I guess Obama wouldn’t be so relaxed when the whole region goes up in flames and it is directly affecting the American interests.”

The decision to supply rebels comes as forces loyal to the government have stepped up attacks on rebel strongholds, including the border city of Qusayr near the Lebanese border, which fell to the regime this month, and on Aleppo, which is coming under sustained attack and bracing for a long siege.

FSA leaders in Aleppo said they welcomed the U.S. vow of military support, though they wish it had come sooner.

“I think it is a good move, if it really is an honest move. It is what we have been asking for from the beginning,” said Abdul Jabar al-Akidi, chief of the Aleppo Military Council of the FSA. “If they had made this decision earlier, we wouldn’t facing this [situation] now. We hope the next move will be bigger and more extensive.”

Analysts said the battle for Aleppo is key for both sides.

“Should the regime overtake Aleppo, then they will start planning for future operations in the east of the country,” said David Hartwell, a Middle East analyst at IHS in London. “The regime wants to secure victory in the west. Then, in six months to a year, it will retake other parts of the country.”

Contributing: Jennifer Collins and Catherine Featherston in Berlin.


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