BEIRUT

Middle East

US envoy holds border talks with rebels: US

WASHINGTON: US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford met with Syrian rebel commanders at a border crossing with Turkey this week, the State Department confirmed Friday, saying the envoy crossed briefly into Syria.

Ford held talks with General Selim Idriss, who heads the rebels' Supreme Military Council, and Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi, the head of the Free Syrian Army's fighters in Aleppo, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.

"While at the border crossing, he discussed the situation on the ground with commanders and other Syrians," Ventrell told AFP.

Ford was recalled from Damascus in October 2011, over concerns for his safety after he visited protesters in the central city of Hama early in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Earlier, Okaidi told AFP that Ford arrived at the Bab al-Salameh border crossing with a shipment of food and medical assistance.

Okaidi, who along with other rebel leaders has criticised Washington's reluctance to arm the rebels, said the supply of weapons was discussed during the 40-minute meeting.

"There were promises that, in future, there will be better assistance than this, and that there might be military assistance," he said.

"The issue is being studied. (The visit) may bring positive results."

The United States has repeatedly expressed its support for the anti-Assad uprising, but it has been unwilling to provide arms, in part for fear that they may end up in the hands of extremists.

Okaidi said Ford's visit could be a sign that "the United States has started to move in the direction of arming the Syrian rebels."

Ford also appeared in a new video posted online on Friday, offering his condolences in Arabic to the Syrian people for "the massacres that the Syrian regime has carried out."

"We understand that humanitarian assistance is insufficient. At the same time, substantive assistance is being given to the Free Syrian Army in its fight against the regime," he said.

In the same video, he echoed US Secretary of State John Kerry's announcements that a transitional government in Syria should be set up, and that Assad should step down.

"Let me be very clear. The US position has not changed. Approximately two years ago, we announced that Bashar al-Assad had lost his legitimacy, and that he had to resign," he said.

"We still say that Bashar al-Assad must resign, he must resign. And the Syrians must create a new transitional government that excludes him and his inner circle," he added.

 

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