Assad warns Britain and France against arming rebels

Syrian president claims it would result in terrorism being exported back to Europe

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has warned Britain and France against arming rebels fighting his government, which he said would turn the Middle East, Europe’s backyard, into a “hub for terrorism and chaos”.

He claimed this in turn would result in terrorism being exported back to Europe. “Terrorists will gain experience in combat and return [home] with extremist ideologies.”

In a comprehensive interview with Frankfurter Allegemeini Zeitung, he praised Germany for "raising logical questions about the consequences of arming the terrorists".

'Harm efforts'
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, a critic of proposals to arm rebels, said calls for a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors in Syria not only aid radicals but also harm efforts to convene an international peace conference in Geneva.

In Syria, troops continued their ground offensive against rebel-held areas around Aleppo while warplanes attacked rebel positions around Kweiras military airbase near the Turkish border, opposition sources reported. While European powers continue to debate if and when to send weapons to the rebels, Saudi Arabia has, apparently, provided a limited number of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles purchased from France and Belgium.

The transfers were made to Gen Selim Idriss, head of the supreme military council of the rebel Free Syrian Army rather than independent radical fundamentalists, it is said. He has been appealing to the west for missiles and anti-tank weapons for several months, arguing that the rebels are out-gunned by the army.

Austria has decided to postpone from June 24th until the end of July the withdrawal of 377 troops from the UN mission deployed along the ceasefire line between Syria and Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Austrian foreign minister Michael Spindelegger said: "We are still going to pull out, but the question of how and when has to be negotiated with the UN."

The recall of the Austrian contingent, the largest in the 913-member force, has led the Philippines to threaten to remove its 342 troop.