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24 Feb, 2013 13:08

Foreign powers send heavy weapons to 'moderate' Syrian rebels - report

Foreign powers send heavy weapons to 'moderate' Syrian rebels - report

Outside powers have reportedly supplied heavy weapons to ‘moderate’ Free Syrian Army fighters, The Washington Post reports. Allegedly the arms have been delivered to Syria to counterweight radical Islamists high-jacking the rebel movement.

The armaments are said to include anti-tank weapons and recoilless rifles and are thought to be the first such heavy weapons have been supplied from outside since the uprising against President Assad started two years ago, the newspaper reports.

Its sources say the weapons have been delivered to FSA groups in the Syrian province of Daraa in the south of the country across the border with Jordan.

The Jordanian government denied any role.

The political and media coordinator for the Free Syrian Army, Louay al-Mokdad, has reportedly confirmed that the rebels acquired new weapons shipped from outside Syria, but he refused to disclose who was behind the shipment.

Citing an unnamed official, the newspaper reports that the main goal of the recent armament is to boost “more moderate groups fighting in the south”, and thus to “counter the growing influence of Islamist extremist groups in the north of Syria”.

According to one of the newspapers sources, shifting the focus of the war away “from the north toward the south and the capital” will make the fight against Assad more productive.

“Daraa and Damascus are the key fronts on the revolution, and Damascus is where it is going to end,” WP quoted Saleh al-Hamwi, coordinator of rebel units in Hama province in west-central Syria.

“The idea was to get heavier stuff, intensify supply and make sure it goes to the good guys,” the official to told the Washington Post.

Intensifying supplies of heavy weaponry to “good guys” is expected to weaken the Al-Nusra Front, a group of united Jihadist militants that was created in January 2012. The Al-Nusra Front has taken responsibility for a large number of slaughterous acts of terror when cars stuffed with explosives exploded on the streets of Syrian cities, causing numerous civilian casualties.

“If you want to weaken Al-Nusra, you do it not by withholding [weapons] but by boosting the other groups,” he added.

Concerns that foreign arms aid goes to ‘incorrect consignee’ were raised earlier this year when it turned out that the supplies ended up in the hands of radical Islamist groups.

Back in October the New York Times revealed classified US assessments of the conflict that said that most of the weapons go to jihadists rather than to secular-minded groups, which the West wants to seize power in the country.

The situation was extremely distressing for the US officials who worried that in case the conflict ends with the ousting of Assad, the better-armed extremist groups were likely to fill in the power vacuum. This at the same time would mean an Islamist Syria hostile to the US in the future.

Over the last year it have allegedly been Saudi Arabia and Qatar which were most often mentioned in connection with supplying weapons to Syrian rebels. These countries reportedly used the territory of Turkey to deliver arms and ammunition across Syria’s northern border. The arms supplies were reportedly executed under full control of the American special services, as NYT revealed earlier. However the US insists it refrained from direct shipping of weapons to the Syrian rebels, limiting its actual help to providing intelligence assistance.

With all the efforts from the international community to help end the long-lasting military conflict in Syria, the civil war still seems to be far from being over. Though Bashar Assad has recently suggested peaceful dialog, something that the international community has been calling for more than a year, the Syrian National Coalition refuse to talk and discuss possible solutions of the crisis, not only with the regime, but with the international community. A representative for the rebel fighters said they would not attend a meeting in Rome or talks in Russia and the US. Meanwhile, a number of casualties continues to grow in Syria. According to the recent estimates from the UN, the war has claimed the lives of nearly 70,000 people since March 2011, when the conflict began.