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Friends of Syria agree on urgent support for rebels to curb ‘imbalance’

Published time: June 22, 2013 18:46
France's President Francois Hollande (C) and his companion Valerie Trierweiler (unseen) are welcomed by Qatar's Energy Minister Mohammed bin Saleh Al-Sada (R) at the airport as part of a two-day official visit to Doha on June 22, 2013 (AFP Photo / Bertrand Langlois)

France's President Francois Hollande (C) and his companion Valerie Trierweiler (unseen) are welcomed by Qatar's Energy Minister Mohammed bin Saleh Al-Sada (R) at the airport as part of a two-day official visit to Doha on June 22, 2013 (AFP Photo / Bertrand Langlois)

Western and Arab backers of the Syrian opposition have agreed to provide urgent military aid to the opposition in order to contain the counter-offensive by the government forces of President Bashar Assad.

Ministers from the 11 core members of the Friends of Syria group agreed "to provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground", the statement released at the end of their meeting in Qatar said.

The statement didn’t oblige all the countries to send weapons to Syria, saying that each state could provide support "in its own way, in order to enable (the rebels) to counter brutal attacks by the regime and its allies", Reuters reports.

The aid is set to be channeled through the Syrian opposition's Supreme Military Council, which the group hopes will prevent weapons from falling into the hands of Islamist radicals, including the Al-Qaeda affiliates from Jabhat al-Nusra. 

The Friends of Syria Group includes such states as the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Turkey as well as the rebel’s hardcore supporters Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The group was initiated by France's then-President Nicolas Sarkozy; the first meeting was held in Tunisia in February 2012.

The ministers also condemned "the intervention of Hezbollah militias and fighters from Iran and Iraq" into Syria, demanding that their immediate withdrawal.

The fighters from Lebanese Shiite movement, Hezbollah, reportedly played a significant role in the recapture of the strategic border town of Qusair by Assad’s forces two weeks ago.

The Friends of Syria expressed their concern with the growing sectarian nature of the conflict and the foreign interventions "threaten the unity of Syria (and) broaden the conflict" across the region.

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, confirmed that the Obama administration is committed to a peace plan for the country, which includes a conference in Geneva and a transitional government picked both by Assad and the opposition.

He explained that the rebels need the support "for the purpose of being able to get to Geneva and to be able to address the imbalance on the ground."

The US has so far said little about its own assistance to the Syrian opposition, despite president Obama announcing that Assad has crossed the ‘red line’ with the alleged use of chemical weapons against the opposition troops.  

Syrian rebel fighters (AFP Photo)

On Friday, Russian Foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, warned the US and its allies from supporting the Syrian opposition.   

“If now they’ll be moving in the direction of what some opposition leaders are saying – namely, let’s first restore military balance on the ground and then we’ll go the conference. This’ll be a disaster for all diplomatic efforts because this would never end,” he told Bloomberg.

The Foreign Minister said Washington must choose whether it really wants to stage a peace conference or keep fueling the rebels’ hopes of victory as it’s impossible to do both things at the same time.

The Geneva 2 conference, which was proposed by Lavrov and Kerry, is designed to become a follow-up to the last year’s international meeting in Geneva that drafted a peace roadmap for Syria.

It was originally planned to take place in mid-June, with no new date for the event being announced so far.

The civil war, which is raging in Syria for over two years – since March 2011, has already claimed nearly 100,000 lives.