Seize the ceasefire: Syrian rebels bask in new guns

Syrian soldiers who defected to join the Free Syrian Army are seen in front of their armoured military vehicle at Khalidiya in Homs May 12, 2012 (Reuters/Thair al-Khalidi/Shaam News Network/Handout)
The main goal of laying aside arms by the Syrian opposition was apparently to get more and better arms. The supply of new guns bought with Gulf monarchies’ money and US advice has reportedly skyrocketed over the last few weeks.

­The material, including anti-tank weapons, is mostly bought on the black market from corrupt Syrian military and in neighboring countries. The arms are stockpiled in Damascus, in Idlib near the Turkish border and in Zabadani on the Lebanese border, reports The Washington Post, citing Syrian opposition sources and US officials.

“Large shipments have got through,” an opposition figure told the newspaper. “Some areas are loaded with weapons.”

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood also uses its channels to funnel guns to the rebels, using funds from wealthy individuals and Persian Gulf states, said Mulham al-Drobi, a member of the Brotherhood’s executive committee.

Earlier Qatar and Saudi Arabia pledged millions of dollars in aid to the Syrian opposition, which can be used to purchase weapons. The US and other Western countries also provide finances for the Syrian opposition, although they assure that the money has non-military use only.

There are also reports that the Turkish government is turning a blind eye when the Syrian armed opposition uses refugee camps located on Turkish territory to rest and launch cross-border attacks on governmental forces.

Non-lethal aid

The US is not supplying arms yet, the report says, but is in contact with the Syrian opposition forces to “to provide the Gulf nations with assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure.”

“We are increasing our non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, and we continue to coordinate our efforts with friends and allies in the region and beyond in order to have the biggest impact on what we are collectively doing,” said an unnamed senior State Department official.

However, other supporters of the Syrian opposition are hopeful that Washington will take a more direct approach to helping the uprising.

“Various people are hoping that the US will step up its efforts to undermine or confront the Syrian regime,” a Gulf state official said. “We want them to get rid” of President Bashar al-Assad.

Violence uncontained


The opposition’s military ramp up comes as Damascus has pulled out its troops from rebel towns and cities to observe the UN-brokered ceasefire. The move came shortly after a major defeat of rebel forces in the city of Homs and a number of other areas.

The ceasefire resulted in sharp decline of violence, but failed to stop it altogether. As a 300-strong UN observer mission is being deployed in Syria, a series of suicide bomb attacks has rocked the country, killing hundreds of people. Such guerilla tactics was not used on such a large scale during the open confrontation between the government and the opposition.

Sporadic shootouts between the Syrian army and the armed opposition also continue. The latest high-profile clash in the strategically-important city of Rastan, near Homs, resulted in at least 23 loyalist troops killed on Monday. Rebels lost at least nine people in the firefight. The apparent successes of the opposition may be due to the fresh supply of arms and military training they received.

The violence also spilled out into neighboring Lebanon, where local radical Islamist militants clashed with governmental forces in a bid to oppose the country’s government neutral stance on the Syrian conflict. The city of Tripoli was briefly seized by the opposition, but was later retaken by Lebanese army units.

Meanwhile President Assad’s government held a promised parliamentary election last week, which was the first multiple political party ballot in the country in decades. Preliminary reports on Tuesday show that the pro-government National Unity bloc is to receive 183 of the 250 seats. The second-largest group in the parliament will be independent politicians.

Many opposition factions boycotted the election, while several Western countries, including the US, dismissed them as irrelevant.