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U.S. to confirm arming opposition in Syria: sources

File - In this undated picture released on Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, and posted on the Facebook page of a militant group, a member of Mujahidin, who fight with Syrian rebels groups against the Syrian government forces, poses for a picture standing next to a missile at an unknown place in Syria. (AP Photo)

BEIRUT: According to diplomatic sources in Beirut, an American decision to increase support to the armed factions of the Syrian Opposition will materialize in the next few days in a bid to re-emphasize the Western power’s central role in the Syria crisis.

Informed sources revealed that last month’s Saudi-American summit between Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and American President Barack Obama in the capital Riyadh broached the subject of arming the Syrian opposition with defensive capabilities to fight the Syrian regime’s advanced armor and aircraft.

Obama is said to have promised to work toward providing weapons to fight against the regime’s advanced arms. The weapons would be offered to carefully selected elements of the opposition, in the form of sight-targeted missiles to target regime tanks from kilometers away.

The sources added that the U.S. was currently focusing on two fronts: northern Idlib, led by the new Free Syrian Army chief Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir, to whom the U.S. missiles would be provided through the Syria-Turkish border, and the southern front led by Maj. Jamal Maarouf currently based in Quneitra, through the Tabuk air base in Saudi Arabia and through Jordan by land.

The sources believe that if those types of weapons reach the moderate elements of Syrian rebel fighters, it would serve to tip the balance of military power on the ground, which has recently fallen in favor of the regime’s army.

Saudi Arabia also asked that the opposition be equipped with anti-aircraft weapons, the sources said, adding that it had not yet received a U.S. response. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry promised his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov that the U.S. would refrain from offering these types of weapons so they would not be used to target Russian aircraft, a move that could embarrass the nation in front of its Syrian ally.

This suggests that an agreement may have taken place between the U.S. and Russia and some European and Iranian parties with the intention of maintaining the military situation in Syria, pending the elimination of extremist groups such as the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

The results of the summit in Riyadh seem to have had repercussions in Lebanon. Frederick Hoff, the U.S. Department of State’s former special adviser for transition in Syria, spoke on the sidelines of the fourth regional conference organized by the Lebanese Army last week about the importance of Syrian President Bashar Assad relinquishing the presidency, as he has “lost all political, popular, and constitutional legitimacy, which will not work with the mock presidential election he is planning for.”

Hoff confirmed information relating to the arming of the Syrian Opposition, adding that the purpose of the move was to prevent the killing of innocent people in Syria at the hands of the regime. He reaffirmed the American stance, which supports an end to the suffering of the Syrian people, a democratic process based on forming an interim government according to the Geneva II conference and a security operation launched by the Syrian security forces to battle terrorism and impose stability.

But Hoff did not elaborate on the situation in Lebanon save for the remarks he made publicly at the conference, in which he said the country’s domestic affairs would be attuned to developments in region.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 16, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

According to diplomatic sources in Beirut, an American decision to increase support to the armed factions of the Syrian Opposition will materialize in the next few days in a bid to re-emphasize the Western power's central role in the Syria crisis.

Informed sources revealed that last month's Saudi-American summit between Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and American President Barack Obama in the capital Riyadh broached the subject of arming the Syrian opposition with defensive capabilities to fight the Syrian regime's advanced armor and aircraft.

Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir, to whom the U.S. missiles would be provided through the Syria-Turkish border, and the southern front led by Maj.


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