Rebel Syria army claims benefit from US strike delay
Obama congressional approval move delays any military action ’til September 9th at least
President Barack Obama has promised to take punitive action against Syria over last month’s poison gas attack in Damascus but wants Congress to vote on the issue first. Photograph: New York Times
The rebel Free Syrian Army has claimed it is benefiting from a delay in an expected US-led strike on Syria, and has guaranteed President Bashar al-Assad’s forces that they and their families will be unharmed if they defect.
“We are now taking advantage of this delay to make better plans and have also issued a statement calling on officers of the Syrian regular army to defect and join our ranks,” Mohammed Almustafa, media co-ordinator for the FSA’s General Salim Idriss, said by telephone today.
“We have given them guarantees that we will protect them and their families from getting killed or being harmed in any way,” he said. “Those who carried out massacres will be subjected to a fair trial.”
More than 400 people defected lately, most recently yesterday in the eastern city of Deir Ezzour, he said by telephone from an undisclosed location on the Syrian-Turkish border.
US President Barack Obama, in a surprise move, yesterday decided to seek congressional approval to strike Syria for what the administration says was an August 21st sarin gas attack by the Assad government that killed more than 1,400 people.
The request puts off any decision on a strike until at least September 9th, when Congress returns from its summer recess.
Some US lawmakers are sceptical about the justifications for the attack.
Dr Assad’s government denies carrying out a chemical assault, and has urged the United Nations Security Council to block the “absurd use of force”, according to state-run news agency ANA.
The delay has given rebels time to arm themselves better, Mr Almustafa said. Weapons and other military support for the rebels have markedly improved over the past two weeks, he said, declining to say which countries were actually providing the arms.
The Turks and “some Arab countries” have been especially supportive, he said, without providing details.
Mr Obama’s deferral also gives time for the international community to forge a “common position” against Syria, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said today.
Military strikes against Syria would threaten prospects of any international peace talks, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov also said today.
The rebel army is confident the US and its allies will decide to strike Syria, based on its meetings and conversations with US and European counterparts, Mr Almustafa said. “We don‘t know exactly when it will happen,” he said.
The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the push to drive Dr Assad from power began peacefully two and a half years ago, then deteriorated into civil war.
Earlier, US secretary of state John Kerry said the US could go ahead with military strikes against Syria even without the backing of Congress based on its evidence the Assad regime regime used sarin in chemical attacks outside Damascus last month.
A day after US president Barack Obama vowed to put any intervention in Syria to a vote of both the Senate and House of Representatives, Mr Kerry said the administration was confident of winning a motion of the kind that British prime minister David Cameron unexpectedly lost last week.
“We don’t contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no,” Mr Kerry said, but he stressed the president had the right to take action “no matter what Congress does”.