Iran, Syria condemn plan to assist rebels

Sunday 03 March 2013 16.25
Bashar Al-Assad said the British government had a naive approach in Syria
Bashar Al-Assad said the British government had a naive approach in Syria

Iran and Syria have condemned western plans to assist rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.

The remarks came against the backdrop of a strategic victory for the regime as the military regained control over a string of villages along a key highway to open a potential supply route in Syria's north.

The army command boasted of the achievement in a statement, saying it had eradicated the remnants of "terrorist agents and mercenaries" in the area that links the government-controlled central city of Hama with Aleppo's international airport.

The reversal of gains, confirmed by Syrian activists, has the potential to change the outcome of the battle in Aleppo, Syria's largest city where government troops and rebels have been locked in a stalemate for months.

Syrian rebels have long complained that they are hampered by the world's failure to provide heavier arms to help them battle Mr Assad's better-equipped military.

The international community is reluctant to send weapons partly because of fears they may fall into the hands of extremists who have been gaining influence among the rebels.

But US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Thursday that the Obama administration was giving an additional $60 million in assistance to Syria's political opposition and would, for the first time, provide non-lethal aid directly to the rebels.

Assad told the Sunday Times, in an interview timed to coincide with Mr Kerry's first foreign trip as the top US diplomat, that "the intelligence, communication and financial assistance being provided is very lethal".

In their first official statements on the US decision, the Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers accused Washington of having double standards and warned it will only delay an end to the civil war.

Iran is a staunch ally of the Syrian regime and has stood by the embattled Assad throughout the conflict.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, also set clear parameters for any future talks with the opposition, saying that whether Assad stays or goes will be decided in presidential elections scheduled for next year. Salehi went further to say Assad may run for another term.

Mr Assad was quoted by the Sunday Times as saying that he had no intention of going into exile. He said during the interview in Damascus last week that "no patriotic person will think about living outside his country."

He accused Mr Kerry of wasting time by trying to ease him out of power, according to the newspaper, saying it was an internal issue "so I'm not going to discuss it with anyone from abroad".

He accused the British government of acting "naive, confused and unrealistic" in its approach to the Syria conflict.

“Britain has played a famously, famously in our region, unconstructive role in different issues, for decades, some say for centuries,” Mr Assad said.

“ And the problem with this (current British) government is their shallow and immature rhetoric only highlight this tradition of bullying and hegemony.

"How can you ask them to play a role in making the situation better, more stable, when they want to send the military supply to the terrorists?" he asked.

Responding to Mr Assad’s comments British Foreign Secretary, William Hague said his government cannot "sit on the sidelines" and watch the slaughter continue in Syria.

Mr Hague refused to rule out the prospect that Britain could arm the Syrian rebels and dismissed the Syrian leader as "delusional".

The UN estimates that 70,000 people have died since the uprising against Mr Assad began in March 2011.

Syria's opposition chief has offered to sit down for talks with regime elements, but insists that Assad must step down.

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