US suspends non-lethal assistance in Syria

2013-12-11 21:31

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Ankara - The United States has suspended all non-lethal aid to the opposition in northern Syria after Islamist rebels seized key bases and warehouses belonging to the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, a US official said on Wednesday.

"We have seen reports that Islamic Front forces have seized the Atmeh headquarters and warehouses belonging to the Supreme Military Council and we are obviously concerned," TJ Grubisha, spokesperson for the US embassy in Ankara, told AFP.

"Because of the current situation, the United States has suspended deliveries of non-lethal assistance into northern Syria," he said.

The Islamic Front, the largest Islamist rebel force in Syria, seized depots belonging to the FSA near the Bab el-Hawa border crossing with Turkey on Saturday.

The group on Tuesday also took control of the crossing itself, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, a monitoring group, said.

Non-lethal aid provided to the rebels by Washington has included armoured vehicles, night vision goggles and advanced communications equipment.

Grubisha said the US decision to suspend such aid would not impact on humanitarian assistance which was coordinated by international and non-governmental organisations including the United Nations.

"We are gathering the facts and consulting with friends of the Syrian opposition on next steps in support of the Syrian people," Grubisha said.

"We are working with General Idriss and SMC staff to inventory the status of US equipment and supplies provided to the SMC," he added, referring to the Supreme Military Council of the FSA headed by Selim Idriss.

Merger

The Islamic Front was formed last month when six groups merged and pledged to work towards forming an Islamic state. It has rejected the authority of the FSA.

Turkey on Tuesday shut its side of the border in Hatay province after the Islamic Front seized the Bab al-Hawa post, customs officials said in a statement.

"The crossing into Syria via Cilvegozu has been closed... due to the clashes between rebel groups in Syria," the statement said.

But a foreign ministry official, contacted by AFP, said the measure was temporary and would not affect refugees entering Turkey.

Turkey, which is fiercely opposed to the regime of President Bashar Assad, has taken in about 600 000 refugees from the Syrian conflict and has become a base for Syrian rebels and army defectors who form the very core of the FSA.

The FSA was the first organised rebel military entity to emerge after peaceful demonstrations against the Assad regime in 2011 degenerated into an armed uprising.

Since then, numerous other groups have emerged, many of them Islamist, which are operating with a high degree of autonomy from the FSA if not totally independently.

Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 126 000 people and displaced millions, has become more complicated as jihadist and other rebel groups battle not only Assad but, increasingly, each other.

The United States has not committed to providing any weaponry for Syrian rebels out of fear that it may end up in the hands of extremists.

Read more on:    syria  |  syria conflict

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