Saudi arms will arrive soon: Syria rebel chief

Saudi arms will arrive soon: Syria rebel chief

Saudi arms will arrive soon: Syria rebel chief

Syrian rebels sit in front of shuttered shops in Beit Hujaira, Damscus. Rebels and the Syrian army have engaged intense battles in the central city of Homs. AFP photo

The new head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition said he expected advanced weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia to reach rebel fighters soon and that the Geneva peace conference “is not possible” for now due to their currently weak military position.

Ahmad al-Jarba, who has close links to Saudi Arabia, told Reuters in his first interview since being elected president of the coalition on July 6 that the opposition would not go to a proposed peace conference in Geneva sponsored by the United States and Russia unless its military fortunes improve.

“Geneva in these circumstances is not possible. If we are going to go to Geneva we have to be strong on the ground, unlike the situation now, which is weak,” al-Jarba said July 7 after returning from the northern Syrian province of Idlib, where he met commanders of rebel brigades.

Asked if shoulder-fired weapons that could blunt President Bashar al-Assad’s massive advantage in amour and air power would reach the rebels after Saudi Arabia took a lead role in supporting the opposition in recent weeks, al-Jarba said, “We are pushing in this direction.”

‘No rest’ until getting advanced weapons

“I think the situation is better than before. I think these weapons will arrive in Syria soon,” he said. “My priority [is] to secure two-tier support for the Syrian people: military and humanitarian. We are working on getting advanced and medium-range weapons to the Free Syrian Army and the liberated areas,” he added.

“I will not rest until I procure the advanced weapons needed to hit back at al-Assad and his allies. ... I give myself one month to achieve what I am intent on doing,” al-Jarba said. After meeting a delegation from Homs, Jarba donated $250,000 of his own money to support humanitarian relief efforts in the city.

Meanwhile, on the ground the Syrian army has recaptured the rebel-held district of Khaldiyeh in the central city of Homs, an official told The Associated Press. A Khaldiyeh-based activist however said rebels are still holding on but are under heavy fire. Earlier this week, Syrian forces took over a series of buildings in Khaldiyeh, but rebels said they had not advanced further. Clashes have raged for 10 days to seize opposition pockets in the strategic city of Homs.

“We are staring at a real humanitarian disaster in Homs. Al-Assad, whose military machine was on the verge of defeat, has been propped up by Iran and its Hezbollah proxy,” al-Jarba said. Al-Jarba offered al-Assad’s forces a truce for the duration of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins today. There has been no indication that the government is ready to accept such a truce.

The coalition’s meeting over the weekend resulted in an overhaul of its leadership and a power shift in favor of a Saudi-backed wing, which defeated in a series of elections a faction effectively headed by Mustafa al-Sabbagh, a businessman who is Qatar’s point man.