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Syrian opposition chief raps "loose" pledges of world support

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 16 Jan 2013 12:33 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Sabra says support for coalition limited despite recognition

* Calls for arming rebels with anti-aircraft weapons

* West loath for fear of arms reaching Islamist militants

By Mahmoud Habboush

DUBAI, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The deputy head of Syria's main opposition coalition criticised major Western and Arab states on Wednesday for not making good on promises to help it isolate President Bashar al-Assad after granting the bloc formal recognition.

The United States, France, Britain, Turkey and Gulf Arab states embraced the coalition formed in November after U.S. pressure for the creation of a bloc more representative of the opposition's diversity, including rebel forces inside Syria.

World powers wanted the new coalition to coordinate efforts to topple Assad after the lacklustre performance of a previous opposition body criticised as being under Islamist domination.

But coalition vice-president George Sabra said international pledges of support had proven cosmetic and "loose", allowing the now 22-month-old conflict to rage on inconclusively and thrust the death toll past 60,000, by a U.N. count.

"The promises before the coalition was born were big but we find them two months later limited at all levels ... There is no real political support coming to the coalition to help isolate the regime," he told the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily al-Hayat.

"The friends of the Syrian regime are providing it with the tools to kill and the friends of the Syrian people are giving the regime the time it needs," said Sabra.

He repeated calls for major backers abroad to provide better arms to the rebels, who remain poorly equipped and disorganised compared with Assad's Russian-outfitted army and air force.

He said the rebels still lacked advanced firepower needed to counter Syrian government air strikes and tank shelling of towns. Western state have shied away from arming the rebels for fear of empowering Islamist militants prominent in their ranks.

But Sabra said: "It's unacceptable that the regime continues to send death to Syrian cities through its Scud missiles and MiG-23 and MiG-29 warplanes while the world is watching and Syrians are unable to defend their children and homes.

"We directly call for providing the Free Syrian Army (rebels) with quality weapons, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft weapons systems," he added.

While having captured much of the north and east of Syria, the rebels have been unable to decisively turn the tables against Assad, whose forces retain crucial control over major central cities and the Mediterranean coast.

The crisis has driven hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country, many to neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where a fire at a camp in the country's southeast killed a pregnant Syrian woman and her three children on Tuesday.

Bloodshed has convulsed Syria since a violent government crackdown in early 2011 on peaceful demonstrations for democratic reform turned the unrest into an armed insurgency bent on overthrowing Assad.

International efforts to find a political solution to the civil war are mired in diplomatic stalemate. (Editing by Andrew Hammond and Mark Heinrich)

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