McCain: Gulf states supply arms to Syrian opposition

Members of the Free Syrian Army's "Commandos Brigade" take part in a training session in Qusayr, 15 kms (nine miles) from Homs (AFP Photo/Str)
Armed rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad are directly supplied with weapons by some regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, confirmed the US Senator John McCain. He wants the US to follow the lead.

­“I’m glad that some of the nations in the Gulf, the Saudis, are providing some weapons [to the Syrian opposition],” the former conservative presidential candidate told CNN in an interview on Sunday.

McCain was arguing that the US should help the Syrian opposition with arms regardless of concerns over the presence of extremist forces among the anti-Assad groups, and that Washington would not be able to prevent them from laying their hands on arms.

The American senator also lashed out at Russia, which sells arms to the Assad government, implying that it is used in the crackdown on the opposition. The accusation comes just days after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that the arms Moscow supplied to Damascus are air defense systems and other hardware, which can be used only in a war with a regular army using aircraft and other advanced weapons.

The US provides support to the Syrian opposition trying to organize them into a unified force. But so far it refrained from giving them American weapons, supplying non-lethal material only. McCain is a strong proponent of more direct military involvement into Syria.

“Washington is already doing this indirectly,” Professor Mark Almond, from Bilkent University in Turkey told RT “there is foreign personnel already in the country guiding the rebels.”

“The West has already made a strategic decision that Assad has to fall. If this can happen through domestic forces that is one way of doing. But ultimately the US and its allies will not want to accept defeat, even if public opinion in the West does not hunger for another intervention.”

Syrian rebel groups are receiving funding from the Gulf monarchies, according to numerous media reports. The money is used to pay salaries to fighters as well as to buy weapons on the black market. Meanwhile Turkey is suspected of indirectly supporting the Syrian opposition by allowing its fighters refuge in its territory.

The violence in Syria renewed after a short-lived UN-brokered ceasefire. Some opposition sources said they used the break in the fighting to receive more and better weapons. At the moment clashes between the warring parties happen every day.

There is no clear vision among leading world nations on how to tackle the issue. Some western countries are calling for a military intervention in Syria, but Russia and China are opposing such a move and advocate a political solution.

Moscow says foreign diplomatic and financial support of the opposition forces in Syria encourages them to continue fighting rather than agree to negotiate with the government. It says it would not oppose the resignation of Bashar Assad, if such a decision is taken by the Syrian president willingly without external pressure and would help stop the violence.

The UN estimates that the 15-month conflict has claimed at least 10,000 lives, while some opposition groups put the number as high as 14,000.