style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Thu 1st Jan, 1970

The question of providing weapons to rebels in Syria has become a leitmotif of the war that has claimed close to 100,000 people. The more-than two year old revolt against President Bashar Al Assad's regime is becoming more complex, with Russia, China and Iran supporting the entrenched dictator and the West led by the US and European countries trying hard to push him out of power. 

Moaz Al Khatib, the controversial leader of the rebels, who recently quit in protest at what he called the international community's lack of support for the rebellion, always wanted the West to provide weapons to the cadres fighting on the ground. The West, however, has been dragging its feet as it fears lethal machinery falling into the wrong hands. A large number of cadres, mostly Sunnis, are fighting the regime with support from some Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's proposal to provide weapons to Syrian fighters was shot down by President Barack Obama. 

Going against the script, however, Britain and France have been pushing for arming the opposition.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle last week showed Berlin's changed stance when he expressed his government's willingness to toe the line of Britain and France. Until now, the Merkel government has been against providing military support to the Syrian opposition. Westerwelle recently attended a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Istanbul where he showed his government's willingness to stand beside London and Paris. "If there are one or two countries in the European Union who think that there is no risk that arms will fall into the wrong hands, then Germany will have to respect that," he said. 

The war against Al Assad's decades-old rule is being fought on several fronts. Disparate groups of mostly Sunni Islamists have been battling government forces in pockets of resistance across the West Asian nation bordering Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. One of the groups- the Al Nusra Front- has openly declared allegiance to Al Qaeda, heightening concerns among Washington and most European governments that arming a terror group may backfire in the long run.

A weeks-old attack on an Aleppo suburb brought allegations of chemical weapons being used in the war. The Assad regime claimed that it was a rebel attack while fighters blamed the government. A UN probe into the incident is forthcoming. A US intelligence report has said that the regime likely used chemical weapons in limited amounts, prompting the opposition to call for immediate UN action in the form of a no-fly zone in Syria.

Britain's The Times reported the ordeal of a family which died from the assault, describing how people choked and frothed to death.

Westerwelle said that the supply of body armour was possible, adding that his government would increase the aid for Syria by EUR15 million to a total of EUR145 million.

This comes amid the US deciding to double its non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition to $250 million. Speaking in Istanbul, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US would pump in $123 million more of non-lethal aid to the fighters.

In a predictable response, Russia came out strongly against EU and US pledge of more support to Syrian rebels. Moscow has warned the EU not to lift an arms embargo on the opposition fighters in spite of France and Britain insisting on doing so.

The EU has also decided to relax oil sanctions on Syria that will allow the rebels to sell crude oil produced in the country to buyers abroad. By doing this, the 27-nation bloc has thrown a major financial lifeline to the Syrian opposition. The sanctions were slapped in 2011. Analysts say it will take at least a month for the rebels to be able to start shipping the crude.

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