Syrian rebels demand more support from Western backers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 April, 2013, 5:06am


Divisions between Syrian rebels and their foreign supporters are being highlighted by a leading opposition group demanding international military action to halt missile attacks and alleged chemical-weapons use against civilians.

At a weekend meeting intended to smooth differences between the rebels and their backers, the Syrian National Coalition criticised its Western and Middle Eastern backers for failing to stop attacks by President Bashar al-Assad's forces that it said were imperiling thousands. The group said the backers were capable of detecting planned attacks and halting them before they occurred.

"It is the moral imperative of the international community to take specific, precise and immediate action to protect Syrian civilians from the use of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons," the coalition, an umbrella group strongly supported by the United States, said. "Such ability is well within the reach of a number of members of the Friends of Syria group, yet nothing serious has been done to put an end to such terror and criminality."

The opposition group called on its foreign supporters to use drone aircraft for "surgical" strikes against the launch sites.

The group's backers are not likely to do what it wants. But the statement underscored the differences in perspective within the anti-Assad alliance, even as its leaders collaborate closely in trying to end a war that has killed an estimated 70,000 people.

Rebel leaders had gathered in Turkey with foreign ministers from 11 countries, including US Secretary of State John Kerry. The US has pushed for a moderate, inclusive approach to negotiations to find a successor regime.

By early yesterday, the foreign ministers and the Syrian National Coalition had agreed to statements that called for a negotiated path to a new Syrian order, a rejection of extremism and power sharing among all major ethnic groups.

The ministers also agreed to funnel all military aid through the opposition coalition's supreme military council, a step that could reduce the flow of weapons to suspected extremist groups.

Kerry also announced, as expected, that the US was sharply raising its spending on non-lethal military aid for the rebels, to US$123 million.

The coalition's statement, however, exposed its different view.

In addition to calling for drone strikes, it demanded that its supporters enforce a no-fly zone along Syria's northern and southern borders to protect refugees, an idea that the Obama administration has rejected.

The Assad regime has increasingly used missiles to strike rebel strongholds, and rebels have alleged that the regime has also resorted to chemical weapons from its vast stockpile.