QATAR: HH the Heir Apparent Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani… with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Doha

Military assistance will be offered to the Syrian opposition to “achieve balance” on the ground, an international group vowed in Doha yesterday.

“We agreed on the importance of achieving a military balance on the ground and providing the opposition (with) what is necessary to fulfil this,” HE the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani said at the end of a meeting of the Friends of Syria group of countries.

“If we send weapons, they will be delivered to the right quarters,” he added without elaborating, in a bid to dispel Western worries that the arms could end up in radicals’ hands.

“Some of the decisions taken (at the meeting) are secret because they are related to practical moves to change the situation on the ground.”

HE Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim said that supplying the Syrian opposition with weapons was the only way to resolve the conflict.

“Force is necessary to achieve justice. And the provision of weapons is the only way to achieve peace in Syria’s case,” he told ministers at the start of the talks.

“The Syrian regime would not have kept going with its bloody policy, and manoeuvring and stalling approach at complete ease in relation to any peaceful settlement for the conflict without the assistance and support it still receives from known regional and international forces,” he told the meeting, adding that the clearest proof of this was “the intervention of Lebanon’s Hezbollah”.

He pointed to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, saying that it was “shocking” to hear news about the regime’s use of these weapons against its own people.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who attended the Doha meeting, said participants agreed that military support for the Syrian opposition would be according to each member country’s initiative.

Besides the US and Qatar, the Friends of Syria include Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim said all but two countries had agreed on the kind of support to provide to the rebels. He did not name the two countries, but Germany and Italy have both said in the past they oppose arming the rebel brigades

The final communique said that the entry into Syria of militia and fighters that support the regime, a clear reference to Hezbollah, “must be prevented”.

In that respect, they emphasised that neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon need to “actively safeguard their borders in order to ensure that fighters and equipment do not escalate current tensions”.

The final communique stated that President Bashar al-Assad “has no role in the transitional governing body or thereafter”.

The communique said “each country in its own way” would provide “urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment” so that the rebels could “counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies and protect the Syrian people”.

Kerry said that military support for Syrian rebels was not aimed at ensuring a military victory for them, but to strengthen them in advance of proposed peace talks with Damascus.

He added that the Friends of Syria believed the talks, expected in Geneva in the coming months, could represent an opportunity to negotiate an end to Syria’s 27-month conflict.

“Reliable civilian governance and a stronger and more effective armed opposition will better enable the opposition to be able to provide the counterweight to the initiative of Assad.”

Kerry accused  Assad’s regime of “internationalising” the conflict by seeking assistance from Iran and  Hezbollah.

“The US and other countries here – in their various ways, each choosing its own approach – will increase the scope and scale of assistance to the political and military opposition.”

Earlier this month, the US, citing the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, announced it would give arms directly to the opposition forces.

Syria’s conflict will top the agenda of French President Francois Hollande in a two-day visit to Qatar which began yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 13 rebel brigades announced the start of a major battle to “liberate” the western parts of Aleppo.

The northern province of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial hub, has been at the centre of fighting, with rebels claiming vast military gains.

In Amman, military officials confirmed that Jordan and the US had expanded a year-old training programme for Syrian rebels.

The programme, once restricted to the detection and securing of chemical weapons, has been broadened to include the use of anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles – the very arms the rebels say are needed to turn the tide of the conflict.

The US dispatched some 2,000 additional military trainers and advisers to Jordan last week, officials said, to train 5,000 Free Syrian Army (FSA) commanders and officers over the next month.

Abu Mohamed al-Darawi, a rebel commander, who sent 100 of his 800-strong battalion to take part in the training, claims the revamped drills included, for the first time, the use of the long-sought-after missiles.

“For the first time, we are using the very weapons that can defend ourselves against the regime’s arsenal,” al-Darawi told the DPA news agency.

Reported by: Caye Global News, Gulf Times

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