Jarba expects advanced weapons to reach rebels

Reuters, ISTANBUL, Turkey

Tue, Jul 09, 2013 - Page 7

The new president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition said on Sunday he expected advanced weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia to reach rebel fighters soon and change their military situation, which he described as weak.

Ahmad Jarba, who has close links to Saudi Arabia, said in his first interview since he was elected president of the coalition on Saturday that the opposition would not go to a proposed peace conference in Geneva sponsored by the US and Russia unless its military position becomes strong.

“Geneva in these circumstances is not possible. If we are going to go to Geneva we have to be strong on the ground, unlike the situation now, which is weak,” Jarba said after returning from the northern Syrian province of Idlib, where he met commanders of rebel brigades.

Asked if shoulder-fired weapons that could blunt Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s massive advantage in armor would reach the rebels after Saudi Arabia took a lead role in supporting the opposition in recent weeks, Jarba said: “We are pushing in this direction.”

“I think the situation is better than before. I think these weapons will arrive to Syria soon,” he said.

“My priority [is] to secure two-tier support for the Syrian people: military and humanitarian. We are working on getting advanced and medium-range weapons to the Free Syrian army and the liberated areas,” he added.

Jarba offered al-Assad’s forces a truce for the duration of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins today, to stop fighting in the besieged city of Homs, where Sunni Muslim rebels face a ferocious ground and air onslaught by Hezbollah-backed troops and militias loyal to al-Assad.

Homs, 140km north of Damascus, is situated at a strategic crossing linking the capital with army bases in coastal regions controlled by al-Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam that has dominated majority Sunni Syria since the 1960s.

“We are staring at a real humanitarian disaster in Homs. [Al-]Assad, whose military machine was on the verge of defeat, became propped up by Iran and its Hezbollah proxy,” Jarba said.

“I will not rest until I procure the advanced weapons needed to hit back at [al-]Assad and his allies... I give myself one month to achieve what I am intent to do,” he added.

After meeting a delegation from Homs, Jabra donated US$250,000 of his own money to support humanitarian relief efforts in the city. Activists who met Jarba said the remaining rebellious Sunni neighborhoods in Homs could fall in days.

Jarba was speaking in Istanbul, where he had been elected president of the Syrian National Coalition, which has little physical presence in Syria and little influence over militant brigades that play a main role in the fight against al-Assad’s forces.