PARIS: Foreign ministers of the “Friends of Syria” group meet in Doha today to discuss military help and other aid for rebels after an onslaught by government forces who have retaken key areas.
The meeting will address in a “concerted, coordinated and complementary manner” the concerns raised by the opposition’s military chief, Salim Idriss, during a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Ankara on Friday, a French diplomat said.
The rebels had notably asked for anti-tank and anti-air missiles to fight the regime forces. Western aid for them so far has been confined to non-military equipment like sophisticated communications materiel.
The upcoming talks—to be attended by ministers of Britain, France, the United States,
Germany, Italy, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Egypt—will also discuss a proposed peace meeting between President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and the opposition to end the 27-month conflict which has claimed some 93,000 lives and shows no sign of abating.
“We will try in Doha to sum up the situation on the ground and to see how we can aid the opposition coalition and arrive at a political solution,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
The Doha talks will be held against the backdrop of a string of successes by government troops into rebel territory, backed up by Iranian forces and Lebanon’s Hezbollah group.
They have retaken Qusayr in the central Homs province near Lebanon and trying to recapture the key city of Aleppo.
It also comes days after a summit of G8 leaders issued a non-committal statement for a peace conference on Syria to be held as soon as possible. The group was deeply divided on key issues, especially owing the intransigence of Russia, Assad’s ally.
The G8 also agreed to push for a transitional government in Syria that could include members of Assad’s regime who switched sides.
French President Francois Hollande, who will be in Qatar and Jordan over the weekend in a visit that had been planned earlier, will also discuss the Syrian unrest with Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, officials said.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been the two major Middle Eastern states providing aid to the rebels.
Britain and France have recently pushed for providing weapons to them but have underscored that this must be done in a responsible manner to avoid the kind of anarchy that took place in Libya after the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
United States President Barack Obama has authorized sending small arms to the rebels after confirmation that chemical weapons were being used in the conflict. But he has refused to specify what they will be.
Syrian rebels have asked friendly world powers to give them heavier weapons and to impose a no-fly zone over parts under their control to avert a humanitarian disaster.
“The regime could use Scud missiles with unconventional warheads to shell liberated areas. So we need a safe haven,” Free Syrian Army spokesman Louay Meqdad said.
“It is necessary to establish secure areas and impose no-fly zones in the south or north,” he said.
Calling for anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, he said that “if they do not provide us with arms to protect civilian areas, a humanitarian disaster will occur because regime troops are committing massacres in the areas they are recapturing.”