Syrian rebels say they have received a shipment of weapons from their allies, the latest since the US said it would give military support to opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
Free Syrian Army spokesman Louay Muqdad claimed the weapons could “change the course of the battle” against the Syrian regime.
“We’ve received quantities of new types of weapons, including some that we asked for and that we believe will change the course of the battle on the ground,” Muqdad told the AFP news agency.
“We have begun distributing them on the front lines, they will be in the hands of professional officers and FSA fighters,” he said.
He did not specify what weapons had been received or when they had arrived, but added that another shipment was expected soon.
“The weapons will be used for one objective, which is to fight the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” Muqdad insisted. “They will be collected after the fall of the regime, we have made this commitment to the friends and brotherly countries.”
The shipment follows reports of Saudi-funded small arms and anti-tank missiles being delivered to Aleppo, where rebels are facing a build-up of regime forces, which are being supplied by Russia.
The US agreed to give rebels as-yet undefined “military support” after saying it had evidence that the regime had used chemical weapons against them. The UN Human Rights mission on Syria repeated its statement that while it had evidence that chemical weapons had been used, it could not verify who was responsible.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday defended his country’s arms deals with Assad’s government and said the West should not send weapons to rebel forces that include “terrorist” groups.
“If the United States … recognises one of the key Syrian opposition organisations, [Jabhat] al-Nusra, as terrorist … how can one deliver arms to those opposition members?” Putin said at an economic forum. “Where will [those weapons] end up? What role will they play?”
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, added that Washington’s pledge to aid rebels could derail any future peace talks, and that even the possibility of a US-enforced no-fly zone had encouraged rebels to fight rather than talk.
“The message the opposition is getting: Guys, don’t say you are going to negotiate with the regime, soon things will change in your favour,” he said
“If our goal is the conference, then we must avoid any discussions and, of course, any action designed to establish a no-fly zone… This isn’t helping to create the atmosphere necessary to convene a conference.”
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, headed to Qatar on Friday to coordinate with allies on the next steps in Syria as the US considers how far to go on assisting rebels.
The top US diplomat was to hold talks on Saturday with fellow foreign ministers of Friends of Syria, which will also be attended by ministers from Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
“The goal of the meeting is to be very concrete about the importance of every kind of assistance that’s coming from the London 11 countries… being fully coordinated and going through only the Syrian opposition coalition,” a US official said.
He added that the Qatar meeting was “in support of re-energising the Syrian opposition coalition leadership to work to select its leadership”.