Adrian Blomfield – Telegraph.co.uk Sept 6, 2012
With opposition forces consolidating their hold over enclaves in the country captured from the regime, Francois Hollande’s government senses an opportunity for the West to give the rebels military assistance for the first time, a diplomat has said.
Until now Western powers have insisted on giving rebel fighters only “non-lethal” aid, fearing that the armed opposition’s chaotic and fractured organisational structure could allow weapons to fall into the hands of radical Islamist groups.
While acknowledging that arming the rebels remains potentially hazardous, France is impressed with the way the opposition is administering towns under its control after it set up local revolutionary councils to impose law and order.
“It’s a subject that we are working on seriously, but which has serious and complicated implications,” the diplomatic source told the Reuters news agency in Paris. “We aren’t neglecting it.”
France, which governed Syria under a League of Nations mandate after the First World War, has taken an increasingly assertive role in international policy towards the Levantine state.
Last week it started providing direct financial aid to five rebel-held cities in Syria, providing money to be used for restoring water supplies, bakeries and schools in an effort to restore a veneer of normality.
But with President Bashar al-Assad stepping up his ever bloodier onslaught against opposition-held areas, rebels have appealed for arms to counter the regime’s air power.
Rebel fighters have succeeded in bringing down a government helicopter and fighter-jet in recent weeks, but in both cases did so through luck. Being able to counter Mr Assad’s air force could turn the tide of Syria’s civil war, which has claimed as many as 26,000 lives, according to opposition activists.
France may break with Western policy by providing Syria’s rebels with artillery and anti-aircraft guns, a diplomat has said.
France is seeking to identify trustworthy rebel commanders controlling “liberated” territory in the provinces of Deir al-Zor, Aleppo and Idlib, the diplomat said.
“We need to work seriously, build a relationship of trust to see who is who so that an eventual decision can be taken,” he said. “It takes time.” Rebel fighters meanwhile suffered a blow in their campaign to extend gains along Syria’s frontiers after government forces recaptured a town along the Jordanian border that has become a major crossing point for refugees.
Hundreds of soldiers, supported by at least 20 fighters, seized Tel Chehab, forcing rebel fighters to flee, activists said.
Jordan is already providing sanctuary to 185,000 Syrian refugees and its prime minister, Fayez Tarawaneh, yesterday said that the country was struggling to cope.
“The numbers are becoming beyond our capabilities, beyond our expectations and we expect more as things deteriorate in Syria,” he said.