Syrian rebels say they’ve new, effective weapons
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels said Friday they have received new weapons from friendly countries that could lead to changes on the ground and victories against President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The arms shipments arrived recently from Arab nations and other countries, a spokesman for the opposition fighters, Loay AlMikdad, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
He did not elaborate on the shipments but insisted no weapons have come from the United States so far.
AlMikdad’s comments confirm earlier AP reporting that new weapons were recently delivered to the opposition from allies, enabling them to stall advances by regime forces in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest, and elsewhere.
Opposition members and experts had told the AP that Gulf countries delivered earlier this month new anti-tank missiles and some anti-aircraft missiles to rebel commanders.
The U.S. announced earlier this month it had conclusive evidence that Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against opposition forces. The White House said multiple chemical attacks last year killed up to 150 people.
Following the announcement, which also coincided with a new aggressive push by the regime to drive rebels from strategic areas they held, U.S. officials said President Barack Obama has authorized sending weapons to Syrian rebels in a major policy shift.
Obama has said the use of chemical weapons crosses a “red line,” triggering greater American involvement in the crisis.
Syrian rebels have long demanded they be supplied with anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles but some Western nations are worried such weapons could end up in the hands of al-Qaida-linked groups that are fighting in Syria against Assad. The country’s bloodshed has killed about 93,000 people since the crisis erupted in March 2011.
“You will see changes on the ground,” said AlMikdad, the spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, or FSA. “You will see victories by the Free Syrian Army and we will be able to repel attacks on civilian areas. We will be able to protect civilian areas in a better way.”
His comments came hours after the main rebel military commander of the Western-backed FSA first confirmed his fighters had received the new weapons, refusing to describe the weapons or where they came from.
Gen. Salim Idris said they would give his forces more power against government troops and allied Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon.
“I would like to thank the brothers and the friends whom I don’t want to name,” Idris told the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV on Friday.
Pressed to comment on weapons from the U.S., Idris only said: “We are waiting, and we urge them to hurry up in supplying us with weapons and ammunition.”
Obama pointedly refused to detail steps his government has recently taken to arm rebels. U.S. officials have confirmed that the administration has approved weapons and ammunition shipments to the opposition, giving little details.
“We believe that the United States will implement its commitments toward us very soon,” AlMikdad said. “We are strong on the ground. We will regain the territories that were taken by the regime.”
“People will see that all the Free Syrian Army needed was weapons to bring down the regime,” he added.
Meanwhile, activists reported that troops pounded several areas around the country on Friday, including the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun and Aleppo city.
Amateur videos showed smoke billowing from Qaboun as it was subjected to shelling. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a Syrian warplane carried out an air raid on Jobar, a key district on the edge of Damascus. It gave no word on casualties.
Also Friday, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said that soaring summer temperatures, overcrowding and worsening hygiene are the latest threats facing some 4 million children affected by Syria’s civil war.
“Without enough safe water and sanitation, the likelihood that children in Syria and those living as refugees around the region will fall sick with diarrhea and other diseases is certain to rise,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF’s director for Middle East and North Africa.
In Syria, the availability of safe water is one third what it was before the crisis, UNICEF said. Of the more than 4.25 million displaced Syrians, many live in overcrowded shelters with insufficient access to toilets and showers. The agency also said the sewage systems are damaged or overwhelmed by the increase in displaced populations.