Arming Syrian opposition would be illegal – Russia
Britain, France and Turkey increasingly frustrated with lack of progress
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday that supplying the Syrian opposition with weapons was illegal under international law, a day after Britain floated the possibility it might bypass an EU arms embargo to do just that.
“International law does not permit the supply of arms to non-governmental actors and our point of view is that it is a violation of international law,” Lavrov told a news conference in London via a translator.
Russia, which has itself sold weapons to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and has repeatedly blocked tough action against him at the United Nations, says the only way to solve the Syrian crisis is through dialogue.
But Britain, and countries such as France and Turkey, are increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress in that direction and have begun to talk about the possibility of lifting an EU arms embargo to allow the rebels to be armed.
Lavrov and British Foreign Secretary William Hague stressed that they both believed in political dialogue, but their difference of opinion over arming the rebels and over taking tough action against Syria in the UN Security Council laid bare their disunity.
Lavrov said he was concerned about the presence of Islamist radicals among the rebels. The two-year-old conflict started out as pro-democracy protests, but has descended into an increasingly sectarian war. Some 70,000 people have been killed and more than one million refugees have fled the violence.
Meanwhile also yesterday heavy fighting erupted in an area between Damascus and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in what could be a new battlefront between Syrian troops and rebels, opposition sources said.
Rebel fighters attacked an army barracks manned by elite Republican Guards and the Fourth Mechanised Division, headed by President Bashar al-Assad’s brother Maher, in Khan Sheih, six kilometres from the outskirts of Damascus, civilian activists and an opposition military source said.
Clashes intensified three days after Sunni Muslim rebels overran a missile squadron in the area, killing 30 soldiers, mostly from Assad’s minority Alawite sect, the sources said.
The region also hosts a Palestinian refugee camp.
An opposition campaigner in the nearby town of Jedeidet said troops stationed in hills overlooking Khan Sheih were attacking the area with multiple rocket launchers to try to dislodge rebels surrounding the barracks.
“I counted up to 20 explosions a minute on Khan Sheih,” the activist, who uses the pseudonym of Abdo, told Reuters by phone.
A rebel commander in contact with the fighters said a force of some 1,000 insurgents had moved into Khan Sheih, which is 25 km from the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967.
He said rebels had also attacked Syrian army positions in the town of Qunaitra, near the ceasefire line with Israel, and further south near the Golan, but those troops were well dug in.
“The aim is to cut supplies to Qunaitra,” he said, adding that the Khan Sheih operations were also intended to relieve pressure on the southwestern Damascus suburb of Daraya, where a rebel pocket has been under army siege for two months.
The main front around Damascus has been in eastern suburbs and neighbourhoods and suburbs. Assad’s forces have made incursions into Daraya on the highway to Jordan, but have not been able to retake it, opposition sources say.