Matthew Schofield / McClatchy & Cheryl K. Chumley / The Washington Times & Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Alexei Anishchuk / Reuters & Sydney Morning Herald – 2013-06-30 00:45:56
Europe Likely to Stay on Sidelines When US Ships Arms to Syria Rebels
Matthew Schofield / McClatchy Foreign Staff
BERLIN (June 28, 2013) — When the Obama administration begins arming Syrian rebels through the CIA, something news reports say will happen within the next month, it probably it will be acting without help from its European allies.
Despite the end of the European Union’s embargo on supplying weapons to the rebels, which expired May 30, experts see little will or appetite among European nations for adding more weapons to the bloody Syrian civil war. Not even the British, who were pressing just weeks ago for arming the rebels, are likely to do so.
In part, that sentiment is based on a deep concern that not enough is known about the groups that make up the rebel forces. In particular, the prominence of the Nusra Front, with strong ties to al Qaida and the al Qaida-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, raises concerns that any weapons sent into that conflict might be used eventually against international troops or interests, either in Syria or elsewhere.
“There is a sense of guilt in Europe at seeing the Russians and Iranians continue to supply the regime,” said Dominique Moisi, a security expert at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. “But there is no enthusiasm for getting involved.”
The vast majority of European nations strongly supported keeping the arms embargo in effect. But because EU decisions must be unanimous, the refusal of Britain and France to renew it meant it was allowed to expire. That may say more about the notion of a single European foreign policy than it does about sentiment to arm the rebels.
Experts think Britain and France were motivated by the hope that the threat of sending weapons would pressure Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime to slow its attacks on the rebels and would dissuade Russia and Iran from continuing to arm the regime. But there’s no belief that France or Britain will provide the arms.
“Those who are against sending weapons are passionately against it. Those in favor are timidly in favor of sending weapons,” Moisi said.
Patrick Keller, a security expert at Berlin’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a foreign policy research center, said, “The EU as a foreign policy actor is weakened. But the way the embargo ended makes sense. Only Britain and France among members feel a global responsibility.”
The general notion in Europe is that if the so-called Big 3 — France, Germany and the United Kingdom — agree on a policy direction, they have the ability to get other nations to fall in line. In this case, Germany was strongly against the expiration of the embargo and it remains opposed to any arms sales in the region.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that Germany won’t be arming anyone involved in the conflict. The Austrians, Belgians, Greeks and Irish have made similar statements.
Keller noted that France and Britain can operate unilaterally. “There really isn’t anything stopping them,” except “they’ve shown no public desire” to do so.
“There really isn’t a European security policy to speak of,” Keller said. “It’s all unilateral.”
David Butter, a security expert at London’s Chatham House research center, said that while Britain and France had issued statements backing up the assertion that Assad’s force had used chemical weapons — the rationale for the Obama administration’s arming of the rebels — the government of neither country had shown the will to get more involved.
“Before any weapons were actually shipped to the rebels, the government would have to get a vote through Parliament,” he said. “There are no signs of that happening.”
The rebels battling to topple Assad are badly divided, and their sources of armaments are uncertain. The United States and its allies have agreed that all weapons should move through the Supreme Military Council, a group that’s led by a defected Syrian general, Salim Idriss. But Idriss’ group has little direct control over rebel forces and the most militarily effective rebels, the Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham, aren’t affiliated with it.
Current weapons supplies are thought to have come through looting of government stocks, the black market or from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. News reports have said US weapons most likely will be funneled through Jordan.
What experts think is certain, however, is that Europe isn’t likely to be sending any lethal supplies.
Butter said it was wrong for Americans to assume that the pattern of European military cooperation with US goals would follow previous conflicts.
“We want to compare what could happen in Syria to what happened in Iraq and Libya,” he said. “But the mistakes made in Syria will not be those made elsewhere. They will be brand-new ones.”
Ali Watkins contributed to this article from Washington.
Syrians Behead Christians for Helping Military, as CIA Ships in Arms
Cheryl K. Chumley / The Washington Times
(June 27, 2013) — A priest and another Christian were beheaded before a cheering crowd by Syrian insurgents who say they aided and abetted the enemy, President Bashar Assad’s military, foreign media reported.
An undated video that made the Internet rounds on Wednesday showed two unnamed men with tied hands surrounded by a cheering crowd of dozens, just moments before their heads were cut off with a small knife, Syria Report said. The attackers in the video then lifted the head for show, and placed it back on the body. The incident took place in the countryside of Idlib, the media report said.
Syria Report said that foreign militants have increased attacks on civilians in recent weeks — and that many of these insurgents are supported by the West and by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Just recently, a Catholic priest was recently executed by radicals, and last month, an entire Christian village in Homs was burned to the ground, Syria Report said. Moreover, two Christian bishops kidnapped in Aleppo at the beginning of the year are still missing.
The reported beheading of the two Christians comes about the same time America has started sending arms to rebel fighters, the Wall Street Journal revealed this week. The Journal reported the Central Intelligence Agency just began transporting weapons to Jordan for eventual transfer to Syrian fighters.
The weapons transfer is aimed at helping Free Syrian forces oust Mr. Assad. It’s scheduled to coincide with arms shipments from other European and Arab allies for a planned and coordinated rebel attack set for August, the Journal reported.
The CIA weapons transfer will take about three weeks, and involves light arms — and possibly antitank missiles, the Journal said
Why Arm Cannibal Rebels in Syria, Putin Asks
Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Alexei Anishchuk / Reuters & Sydney Morning Herald
AMMAN/LONDON (June 17, 2013) — Russian President Vladimir Putin, arriving in Britain ahead of an international summit set to be dominated by disagreement over the US decision to send weapons to Syria’s rebels, said the West must not arm fighters who eat human flesh.
“One does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras,” Mr Putin said.
“Are these the people you want to support? Are they the ones you want to supply with weapons? Then this probably has little relation to the humanitarian values preached in Europe for hundreds of years.”
The incident Putin referred to was most likely that of a rebel commander filmed last month cutting into the torso of a dead soldier and biting into a piece of one of his organs.
After months of deliberations, Washington decided last week to send weapons to the rebels, declaring that Dr Assad’s forces had crossed a “red line” by using nerve gas.
The move throws the superpower’s weight behind the revolt and signals a potential turning point in global involvement in a two-year-old war that has already killed at least 93,000 people.
It has also infuriated Russia, Cold War-era ally of Syria, which has sold arms to Dr Assad and used its veto at the UN Security Council to block resolutions against him.
Russia has dismissed the US evidence that Dr Assad’s forces used nerve gas. The White House says President Barack Obama will try to lobby Mr Putin to drop his support for Dr Assad during this week’s G8 summit hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
After meeting Mr Cameron in London, Mr Putin said Russia wanted to create the conditions for a resolution of the conflict.
Both sides have been accused of atrocities in the conflict. The United States and other countries that aid the rebels say one of the reasons for doing so is to support mainstream opposition groups and reduce the influence of extremists.
In Syria, rebels fought back on Sunday against forces of President Bashar al-Assad and his Lebanese Hezbollah allies near Aleppo, where Dr Assad has announced a campaign to recapture the rebel-held north after seizing a strategic town this month.
The US plan to arm the rebels also places new doubt over plans for an international peace conference called by Washington and Moscow, their first joint attempt in a year to try to seek a settlement.
After meeting Mr Putin, Britain’s Mr Cameron said the divide between Russia and the West over Syria could be bridged, although they disagreed about who was at fault.
“What I take from our conversation today is that we can overcome these differences if we recognise that we share some fundamental aims: to end the conflict, to stop Syria breaking apart, to let the Syrian people decide who governs them and to take the fight to the extremists and defeat them.”
Britain has not said whether it too will arm the rebels, but the issue is contentious even within Mr Cameron’s Conservative-led government. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister from his Liberal Democrat coalition partners, said: “We clearly don’t think it’s the right thing to do now, or else we would have done it.”
Under its new posture, Washington has also said it will keep warplanes and Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Jordan, an ally whose territory it can use to help arm and train rebel fighters. Washington has 4500 troops in Jordan carrying out exercises.
Washington has not ruled out imposing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, perhaps near the Jordanian border, although it has taken no decision yet to do so.
Jordan’s King Abdullah rallied his own armed forces on Sunday, telling military cadets: “If the world does not help as it should, and if the matter becomes a danger to our country, we are able at any moment to take the measures to protect the country and the interests of our people.”
Washington hopes its backing will restore rebel momentum after Dr Assad’s forces seized the initiative by gaining the open support of Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia, which sent thousands of seasoned fighters to aid Dr Assad.
Just a few months ago, Western countries believed Dr Assad’s days were numbered. But with Hezbollah’s support he was able to achieve a major victory this month in Qusair, a strategically located rebel-held town on a main route from Lebanon.
Since then, the government has announced major plans to seize the north, including Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city and commercial centre, largely rebel-held for nearly a year. The United Nations says it fears for a bloodbath in the north.
Rebels say they are fighting back against government offensives in the north. An opposition operations room in northern Aleppo said fighters had destroyed an army tank and killed 20 troops at Marat al-Arteek, a town where opposition sources say rebels are holding back an armoured column sent to reinforce loyalists from isolated Shi’ite villages.
“Assad’s forces and Hezbollah are trying to control northern rural Aleppo but they are being repelled and dealt heavy losses,” Colonel Abdeljabbar al-Okeidi, a Free Syrian Army commander in Aleppo, told al-Arabiya Television.
He said Hezbollah had sent up to 2000 fighters to Aleppo and the surrounding areas, but expressed confidence the opposition would prevail.
“Aleppo and Qusair are different. In Qusair we were surrounded by villages that had been occupied by Hezbollah and by loyalist areas. We did not even have a place to take our wounded. In Aleppo, we have a strategic depth and logistical support and we are better organised,” he said. “Aleppo will turn into the grave of these Hezbollah devils.”
Battles were also fought inside Aleppo itself, where thousands of loyalist troops and militiamen reinforced by Hezbollah have been massing and attacking opposition-held parts of the city, driving rebel fighters back.
Opposition activists said the army was also airlifting troops behind rebel lines to Ifrin, in a Kurdish area, which would give access for a bigger sweep inside the city.
“For a week, the rebel forces have been generally on the retreat in Aleppo, but the tide has started turning in the last two days,” said Abu Abdallah, an activist in the area.
Hezbollah’s support for Assad, a follower of the minority Alawite offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, against mainly Sunni Muslim rebels has increased fears of sectarian violence spreading into neighbouring countries.
In Lebanon, security sources said gunmen had shot dead four Shi’ite Muslim men in an ambush in the Bekaa Valley close to the Syrian frontier. It was not clear who was behind the shooting.
Lebanon is still rebuilding from its own sectarian civil war, fought from 1975-1990. Fighting between Sunnis and Shi’ites was also behind most of the violence in Iraq in the decade after the US invasion of 2003.
Syrian ‘Cannibal’ Rebel Explains His Actions
(May 19, 2013) — Rebel commander Abu Sakkar, who was filmed cutting out and eating the organs of a pro-regime fighter, warns that if the bloodshed continues “all Syrian people” will be like him.
Rebel commander Abu Sakkar gained instant notoriety after footage emerged of him appearing to remove the organs of a pro-regime fighter and then eating them.
In a short video uploaded to YouTube, he says that he found the fighter had mobile phone footage showing the killing of children, rapes, dismemberment and torture.
“Every free Syrian who sees this; you don’t know what they can do,” he said.
He also warned that if the bloodshed in Syria continues “all Syrian people will be like me.”
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