Kerry seeks to coordinate aid to Syrian rebels

Washington wants Western and Arab allies to direct all aid to Syrian rebels through the Western-backed Supreme Military Council

Colonel Abdul-Jabbar al-Aqidi, commander of the rebels’ Military Council in Aleppo, launches a mortar shell at the frontline in the Al-Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

Colonel Abdul-Jabbar al-Aqidi, commander of the rebels’ Military Council in Aleppo, launches a mortar shell at the frontline in the Al-Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo yesterday. Photograph: Reuters

 

Washington wants Western and Arab allies to commit to directing all aid to Syrian rebels through the Western-backed Supreme Military Council, a senior USofficial said before talks in Qatar today to try to reduce the power of jihadi groups.

Speaking before US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Doha for the meeting with European and Arab foreign ministers, the official said the United States was also seeking to ensure that aid promises for the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the conflict are honoured.

US president Barack Obama announced last week that Washington would step up military aid to rebels following a series of counter-attacks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, including the recapture of a strategic border town in an offensive led by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.

Rebels say they urgently need advanced arms, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, to stem Assad’s advance.

Western countries hope by channelling assistance through the council - the rebel military leadership headed by General Salim Idriss, a former commander in Assad’s army - they can reduce the influence in the opposition ranks of radical Islamist groups such as the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

The meeting in Qatar brings together ministers of 11 countries that make up a pro-rebel alliance - France, Germany, Egypt, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Britain and the United States.

“The goal of the meeting is to be very concrete about the importance of all assistance, every kind of assistance that is coming from 11 countries,” the senior US official told reporters travelling with Mr Kerry.

“It is important that it be fully coordinated and go through only the Syrian opposition coalition, specifically the Supreme Military Council,” the official said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague reiterated that London had yet to take a formal decision on arming the rebels, but said that only by strengthening the opposition could the West hope to bring about talks for a political settlement.

“We won’t get a political solution if Assad and his regime think they can eliminate all legitimate opposition by force, and so we do have to give assistance to that opposition,” he told reporters before the start of today’s talks.

The United States and Russia, which back opposing sides in the conflict, hope to bring them together for negotiations in Geneva originally scheduled for this month. Mr Hague said there was little prospect of that happening “in the next few weeks”.

“This crisis is on a worse trajectory, it is set to get worse ... I don’t want to underestimate the severity and the bleakness of it,” he said.

Moscow, which says it will not break off military supply contracts with Damascus, opposes arming rebel forces which it says include terrorist groups, and has warned that a swift exit by Assad would risk a dangerous power vacuum.

Reuters