Exiled Syrians back Romney calls to arm rebels

Members of the Syrian opposition in exile have supported a demand by US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney that countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia send arms to rebels.

An image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network taken yesterday shows Free Syrian Army militants training on the outskirts of Homs.
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ISTANBUL // Members of the Syrian opposition in exile yesterday supported a demand by US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney that countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia send arms to rebels fighting the regime of Bashar Al Assad.

"In the absence of international intervention in Syria to protect the Syrian people, the only alternative left is to have the Syrian people defend themselves, and they need arms to do that," Molham Aldrobi, a member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella group, said in an interview yesterday. "We need the innocent people to be protected."

Mahmut Osman, Turkey representative of the SNC, also said the international community should "either do something against Assad or give weapons to people fighting him". He said the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a rebel force fighting government troops, was running out of weapons and ammunition. "If he said this, he said the right thing," Mr Osman said about Mr Romney.

On Saturday, Mr Romney said that, as president, he would be "leading in Syria by encouraging our friends there like the Turks and the Saudis to provide weapons to the insurgents", according to news reports. The administration of Barack Obama, the US president, has rejected demands to arm Syrian rebels.

Like the US, Turkey's government has given strong political support to the SNC, but last week denied news reports saying it was allowing arms, including anti-tank weapons, to be transported to rebel forces across its border with Syria. "Turkey does not send armed elements to any neighbouring country, including Syria," a Turkish diplomat said. There was no comment by Ankara on Mr Romney's suggestion.

Mr Aldrobi said statements like Mr Romney's and recent demands by France that a military intervention should not be excluded were responses to the worsening violence in Syria itself.

"You cannot keep watching innocent people being slaughtered," he said. More than 14,000 people have been killed since the start of an uprising against Mr Assad in March last year, according to activists. "What is the international community waiting for?" Mr Aldrobi asked.

He said armed peacekeepers or other forms of international intervention were preferable to arms shipments to Syrian rebels. "It would be more efficient and save more lives."

Remarks by opposition members showed a growing sense of frustration with the West. Mr Osman of the SNC in Turkey pointed to Nato's repeated insistence that it would not intervene militarily in Syria. "This is like telling Assad: 'Carry on'" with massacres against civilians, Mr Osman said.

But even as it is trying to convince the international community to intervene with the aim to topple the Assad government, the opposition is struggling to overcome internal differences about what the new Syria should look like after the fall of the regime.

At a two-day meeting in Istanbul last weekend, the SNC and other opposition groups formed a committee to work out a common vision for the post-Assad Syria. Abdulbasit Sayda, the SNC leader, told the Turkish news agency Anadolu the committee would consist of 10 members and reflect all parts of the opposition. Mr Sayda did not respond to several telephone calls yesterday.

The idea behind the committee is to create joint positions ahead of a meeting of the opposition with the Arab League in Cairo later this month. Mr Osman of the SNC in Turkey said the committee's job was to work out principles describing "what kind of Syria we want".