SNC seeks arms office in Turkey
PARIS / ISTANBUL
Members of the Free Syrian Army are seen deployed in al-Bayada, Homs, Feb 29. Syrian troops launched a ground attack in Homs on Feb 29. REUTERS photoThe opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said yesterday it wanted to organize weapons deliveries to Syrian rebels and was uniting armed factions fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime under a new bureau, which will “probably be located in Turkey.”
Speaking to reporters in Paris, SNC chief Burhan Ghalioun said a new “military bureau” announced Feb. 29 would coordinate the armed resistance and act as a conduit for foreign countries seeking to send arms. Turkey will probably host the new military bureau, Ghalioun said, Agence France-Presse reported.
“This military bureau will be located as close as possible to the field of action, probably in Turkey,” Ghalioun said.
Turkey representative of the SNC, Khaled Khoja, has also confirmed the military coordination bureau would most probably be located in Turkey. “The coordination bureau cannot be opened anywhere else than Turkey because the people that will be assigned to the bureau have to work in coordination with the leaders of the Free Syrian Army, Riad al-Asaad and Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh, the leader of the ‘Higher Revolutionary Council.’ And they both live in the camp in Turkey,” Khoja told Hürriyet Daily News in a phone interview yesterday.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has not confirmed the information regarding the location of the bureau yet. Ministry sources have said they did not receive any request for a military bureau of the SNC in Turkey.
Ghalioun said the new military bureau would bring together the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other groups of deserters. He said both Riad al-Asaad and al-Sheikh had “agreed to be part of this bureau.”
“Its [the bureau’s] mission will be to see which arms are necessary and for which missions,” he said. “We will determine our requests, our needs for arms and we will see which country to get them from.”
Arab countries including regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia have urged the international community to arm opposition fighters in Syria. “We know that some countries have expressed a desire to arm the revolutionaries. The SNC, via its military bureau, wanted to organize this flow to avoid direct arms deliveries from particular countries,” Ghalioun said. “The SNC will be this link between those who want to help and the revolutionaries. It is out of the question that arms go into Syria in confusion.”
Kuwait’s Parliament joined the call for arming the rebels yesterday, adopting a non-binding resolution urging the oil-rich Gulf state to supply weapons to the opposition and to sever diplomatic ties with Damascus. But the U.S. has not advocated arming the rebels, in part out of fear it would create an even more bloody and prolonged conflict because of Syria’s complex web of allegiances in the region that extend to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Arms enter from Lebanon: SNC
Ghalioun said the SNC had not yet received any “precise proposals” from foreign countries on the supplying of arms. “We do not believe there are currently many arms entering Syria. The FSA’s weapons come from within Syria, from the army, and there are also arms sold in Syria,” Ghalioun said. He said some weapons had been coming in from Lebanon but the border was now almost entirely closed and the border areas mined.
Ghalioun insisted arms deliveries were aimed only at protecting civilians from attacks by al-Assad’s forces. “We want to control the use of weapons so there won’t be a civil war,” he said. “Our aim is to help avoid civil war.”
The SNC has called for arming rebels in the past, but this was the first time it sought to organize the fighters under one umbrella. Ghalioun said the SNC rejected the presence of foreign fighters in Syria, saying “we will defend the sovereignty of Syrian territory to the end.”
İpek Yezdani from Istanbul contributed to this report.