’Secret steps’ adopted to change Syria balance

Shaun Tandon|AFP

Published — Saturday 22 June 2013

Last update 28 June 2013 7:17 pm

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DOHA: World powers supporting Syria’s rebels decided on Saturday to take “secret steps” to change the balance on the battlefield, after the United States and others called for increasing military aid to insurgents.
Yet even as they prepared to step up their own involvement in a war that has killed nearly 100,000 people, they demanded that Iran and Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah stop supporting President Bashar Assad’s regime.
In their final communique, the ministers agreed to “provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground, each country in its own way in order to enable them to counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies and protect the Syrian people.”
Speaking in Doha, top Qatari diplomat Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani said the meeting of foreign ministers of the “Friends of Syria” had taken “secret decisions about practical measures to change the situation on the ground in Syria.”
Ministers from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States attended the talks.
Washington and Doha called for increasing military aid to end what US Secretary of State John Kerry called an “imbalance” in Assad’s favor.
Kerry said the United States remained committed to a peace plan that includes a conference in Geneva and a transitional government picked both by Assad and the opposition.
But he said the rebels need more support “for the purpose of being able to get to Geneva and to be able to address the imbalance on the ground.”
To that end, he said, “the United States and other countries here — in their various ways, each choosing its own approach — will increase the scope and scale of assistance to the political and military opposition.”
Sheikh Hamad echoed Kerry’s remarks, calling for arms deliveries to the rebels to create a military balance that could help forge peace.
A peaceful end “cannot be reached unless a balance on the ground is achieved, in order to force the regime to sit down to talks,” he told the ministers.
“Getting arms and using them could be the only way to achieve peace.”
On Thursday, the rebel Free Syrian Army said it was already receiving unspecified new types of arms that could change the course of the battle, but also said it needed anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons.
In their communique, the ministers agreed that all military aid provided would be chanelled through the FSA’s Supreme Military Council.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the ministers demanded that predominantly Shiite Iran and Hezbollah stop meddling in the war by supporting Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
“We have demanded that Iran and Hezbollah end their intervention in the conflict,” said Fabius.
“Hezbollah has played a terribly negative role, mainly in the attack on Qusayr,” a strategic town recaptured from rebels earlier this month with the group’s help.
“We are fully against the internationalization of the conflict,” he told reporters.
Kerry also accused Assad of an “internationalization” of the conflict, which has claimed nearly 100,000 lives, by bringing in Iran and Hezbollah.
And the final communique said the crossing into Syria of militia and fighters that support the regime, a clear reference to Hezbollah, “must be prevented.”
The ministers also warned of the “increasing presence and growing radicalism” and “terrorist elements in Syria.”
It is “a matter that deepens the concerns for the future of Syria, threatens the security of neighboring countries and risks destabilising the wider region and the world,” they said.
Sheikh Hamad also voiced support for a peace conference but insisted there could be no role in the future government for “Assad and aides with bloodstained hands.”
He accused Assad’s regime of wanting to block the Geneva conference in order to stay in power, “even if that costs one million dead, millions of displaced and refugees, and the destruction of Syria and its partition.”
The final communique stated that Assad “has no role in the transitional governing body or thereafter.”
On the ground, loyalist forces pressed a fierce four-day assault on rebel-held parts of Damascus, while insurgents launched a new attack on regime-controlled neighborhoods of second city Aleppo.
Saturday’s developments come as the military pushed on with its bid to end the insurgency in and around Homs in central Syria, said the Observatory.
They also come a day after at least 100 people were killed nationwide, it added.

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