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Syria: Arming rebels is 'dangerous'

25 June 2013, 07:15

Syria - The decision by the United States and its allies to arm rebel groups in Syria is "very dangerous" and will prolong the violence and killing, Syria's foreign minister said Monday.

The warning came as an artillery shell slammed into a village in central Syria and killed 11 people, including a woman and six of her children, activists said.

Walid al-Moallem said sending more weapons to the opposition would also hinder efforts to convene a peace conference in Geneva to work on a negotiated solution. He said his country remains ready to take part but added President Bashar Assad will not step down. His resignation is a key opposition demand to be raised in any talks with Damascus.

Al-Moallem spoke two days after an 11-nation group that includes the US met in Qatar and agreed to step up military and other assistance to the Syrian rebels. He said all those who met in Qatar "have Syrian blood on their hands."

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who took part in the conference, would not disclose details of the aid, saying only that it would re-balance the fight between the rebels and the government. Assad's better-equipped forces are increasingly backed by fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group.

"If they dream or are delusional about achieving a balance with the Syrian Arab Army, I think they need to wait years, and this won't be achieved," al-Moallem said.

"They will not be victorious no matter how much they conspire," al-Moallem added. He said arming the rebels "is a dangerous decision because it aims at prolonging the crisis, prolonging the violence and killing and encouraging terrorism."

The Friends of Syria gathering in Doha was Kerry's first meeting with his counterparts on the practicalities of assisting the Syrian rebels since President Barack Obama announced that the US would send arms to the opposition. The decision came despite concerns that the weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists in the rebel coalition.

Obama's change of policy was partly based on a US intelligence assessment that Assad had used chemical weapons, but Kerry expressed deeper concern about Assad's foreign support. He said that Iranian as well as Hezbollah fighters had joined the war.

Al-Moallem denied that any Iranian fighters were in Syria. Damascus acknowledges that Hezbollah is assisting government troops.

The foreign minister said his regime was willing to take part in a peace conference, but would go to Geneva not to hand over power to the other side but rather to establish "a real partnership" and a national unity government that includes representatives of all Syrian society.

"President Bashar Assad will not step down," he said. "If anyone has such illusions on the other side, my advice to them is not to go to Geneva," he said, rejecting the opposition's demand that Assad's departure from power should top the agenda in at the peace conference. He nonetheless called the conference an "opportunity that should not be missed."

He insisted Syria will not accept any solutions or ideas dictated from the outside.

Syrian government troops clashed with opposition fighters Monday in central provinces of Homs and Hama. An artillery shell slammed into the village of Tarfawi in Hama province, killing at least 11 people, including a woman and six of her children, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The group relies on the network of activists inside Syria. It said government forces fired the shell.

More than 93 000 people have been killed in Syrian conflict that started in March 2011 as largely peaceful protest against Assad's rule. The uprising turned into a bloody insurgency in response to a military crackdown by regime forces on the protest movement. In the past year, the war has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones.

- AP


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