Diplomatic, material support pledged to Syrian opposition
Western and Arab governments, after a meeting in Rome of the Friends of Syria group, have pledged to boost diplomatic and material support for the Syrian political opposition with the aim of changing the balance of power.
They have also called for an end to the unabated flow of arms to the government, without naming suppliers Iran and Russia.
On the third leg of his first foreign tour since his appointment, US secretary of state John Kerry yesterday said Washington would double non-lethal aid to the civilian and armed opposition, granting $60 million, on top of the $385 million already provided for refugees.
He said the additional aid would go directly to the coalition and the supreme military council and enable the opposition to help councils rebuild, provide basic services and establish representative government and the rule of law in “liberated areas”.
To the rebels, he offered battlefield meals and medical supplies but not, as they hoped, flak-jackets and armoured vehicles.
Mr Kerry said the 11 countries represented at the Rome meeting of the Friends of Syria “believe the Syrian opposition coalition can successfully lead the way to a peaceful transition, but they cannot do it alone . . . they need more support from all of us – and they need [president] Bashar al-Assad to make a different set of calculations.”
Mr Kerry had earlier said Mr Assad “needs to know he cannot shoot his way out of this”.
Coalition president Moaz al-Khatib urged Mr Assad to step down and halt detentions and killings in order to “save this country.”
Mr Khatib said the government had to be compelled to create humanitarian corridors to enable aid to reach areas caught up in the violence. He rejected the characterisation of the rebels as fundamentalist jihadis and said the coalition would not agree to the division of Syria into sectarian or ethnic statelets.
On that, he received backing from Russian president Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart François Hollande, who agreed that Syria must not be allowed to fragment.
In the Rome communiqué, participants pledged to “co-ordinate their efforts closely so as to best empower the Syrian people and support the supreme military command of the [rebel] Free Syrian Army in its efforts to help them exercise self-defence.”
The statement also referred to the National Coalition, set up under Qatari auspices in November as “the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people”.
UN agencies, meanwhile, providing shelter and sustenance for Syrian refugees, say only $200 million of the $1.5 billion pledged has been received as the number registered has risen to nearly a million.