Rebels vow to work with Syria interim government
The leader of the main Syrian rebel force yesterday threw his weight behind the formation of an interim government to administer rebel-held areas, as heavy fighting broke out in the country’s capital and several of its suburbs.
General Salim Idris said fighters affiliated with his Free Syrian Army, the main rebel group, will work under the umbrella of an interim government and protect its members.
General Idris, the FSA’s chief of staff, said: “We recognise the coalition as our political umbrella and we hope this government can be formed unanimously and that this government will exercise its powers in all of Syria. We consider it the only legal government in the country.”
His comments sought to boost efforts by the opposition’s Syrian National Coalition to choose a prime minister who will form an interim government. The coalition has failed to take such a step twice before, but members say there now appears to be more agreement that such a step is necessary.
The coalition’s 73 members, currently meeting in Istanbul, are expected to elect an interim prime minister from 12 candidates. The vote is expected today.
General Idris’s comments also sought to portray his group as the most powerful and organised rebel formation in Syria. It remains unclear, however, how many of the hundreds of rebel brigades fighting president Bashar al-Assad’s forces follow Gen Idris’s commands or are linked to his group.
Some of the most effective rebel groups are Islamic extremists who have developed their own support networks. One of them, Jabhat al-Nusra, has been designated a terrorist group by the United States and is said to be linked to al-Qaeda. General Idris said his group has no relationship with Jabhat al-Nusra.
The general also renewed his call for world powers to arm rebel fighters, saying his group would ensure weapons do not fall into the wrong hands – a prime concern of international leaders.
General Idris said: “We have the power and the organisational capacity to control the movement of these weapons and keep them in safe, trusted hands.”
Meanwhile, at least three mortars struck central Damascus yesterday, the seat of Mr Assad’s power. The pro-government Al-Ikhbariya TV said one of the shells fell in Muhajireen district near Tishreen Palace, one of three palaces Mr Assad uses in the capital.
Activists reported that mortars struck near state security agencies in al-Barakmeh district and some also fell close to the higher education ministry in Mazzeh district.
At least 26 people died in the fighting in Damascus and its suburbs yesterday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Mr Assad’s fighter jets also struck targets near the town of Arsal, Lebanon, according to Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency yesterday. The two countries share a porous border and it was unclear if the shelling occurred inside Lebanon.
The strikes came just days after Damascus warned Beirut to stop militants from crossing the border to fight alongside the anti-government rebels.
Lebanon has been on edge since the uprising against Mr Assad began in March 2011. Gunmen on opposing sides of the Syrian civil war have frequently clashed in Lebanon, raising concerns of a spillover.
Meanwhile, General Idris suggested other types of possible military aid, saying his group would welcome Lebanese or international forces along Syria’s border with Lebanon. He also called for rebel units to be trained to seize Syria’s chemical weapons. “The chemical weapons in Syria are not secured,” he said, warning that they could be used against rebels or given to “rogue groups, like the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah”.
“We ask the international community to help us train special forces that can secure these weapons and keep them from falling into the hands of extremists,” he said.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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