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Middle East

Rebels demand arms, no-fly zone from 'Friends of Syria'

This citizen journalism image shows a Syrian rebel firing a heavy machine gun towards Syrian soldiers loyal to Syrian president Bashar Assad, in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

DUBAI: Rebel fighters appealed on Thursday to the "Friends of Syria" group which is to meet this weekend to provide them with heavy weapons so they can protect civilians and prevent a humanitarian disaster.

Free Syrian Army spokesman Louay Meqdad also urged Western and Arab ministers who are to meet in Doha on Saturday to impose a no-fly zone over opposition-held areas of the war-torn country.

"We need short-range ground-to-air missiles, (shoulder-fired) MANPADS, anti-tank missiles, mortars, and ammunition," said Meqdad. "We also need communications equipment, bullet-proof vests and gas masks."

The rebels fear "the regime could use Scud missiles with unconventional warheads to shell liberated areas," he said. "So we need a safe haven."

"It is necessary to establish secure areas and impose no-fly zones in the south or north," he told AFP.

"If they do not provide us with arms to protect civilian areas, a humanitarian disaster will occur because regime troops are committing massacres in the areas they are recapturing."

According to Meqdad, "foreign militias, including (the Lebanese Shiite movement) Hezbollah and Abulfadhl al-Abbas brigades (made up mainly of Iraqi Shiites) do not respect any international conventions."

Foreign ministers of the "Friends of Syria" group would be meeting in the Qatari capital to discuss aid for the rebels, including military help, a French diplomat said Wednesday.

Ministers of Britain, France, the United States, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Egypt would attend, the source said.

The meeting would address in a "concerted, coordinated and complementary manner" the concerns raised by the opposition's military chief during the last "Friends of Syria" meeting in Ankara last Friday, the diplomat said.

Western powers have so far refused to arm rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops -- backed by Shiite militias from neighbouring countries -- out of fear they could fall into the hands of radical Islamists fighting alongside the insurgents.

But Meqdad said that "we are committed to ensuring that these weapons do not fall into the hands of unorganised or extremist groups".

FSA chief of staff, General Selim Idriss, is seen as a reliable partner by the West, who mainly voice fears of groups such as the radical Al-Nusra Front.

Meqdad said the regime has been amassing troops in reparation for an offensive on rebel-held areas on the outskirts of the capital Damascus and second city Aleppo.

The expected campaign comes after forces loyal to Assad regained control of the strategic town of Qusair, on the border with Lebanon, with the help of Hezbollah fighters.

 

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