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16th Nov 2019

Weapons needed to oust regime, says top Syria rebel general

  • Brigadier General Selim Idriss defected last July from the national army after Bashar al-Assad forced torched his village (Photo: james_gordon_losangeles)

Bashar al-Assad’s 40-year old regime would topple within a month if the West were to lift the arms embargo and supply the rebels with weapons, Syria’s rebel top commander Brigadier General Selim Idriss has said.

Idriss, who leads the Free Syria Army (FSA), appealed to euro-deputies in Brussels on Wednesday (6 March) to lift the arms embargo.

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“We are the first to suffer from that embargo,” said Idriss.

The supply chain of weapons into rebel hands is mostly booty from defeated regime troops. Light weapons are purchased on the domestic black market.

But faced with a national army with fighter jets and tanks at its disposal, the rebel forces are asking the international community to supply it with both anti-aircraft and anti-tank munitions.

“If we have the weapons we need, I can tell you that the regime will collapse in a month,” said Irdiss.

The rebel commander said weapons would be registered and numbered before delivered to the front line. The system would ensure their recovery once the regime falls.

The general noted that there are around 100,000 armed rebel combatants. Another 200,000 are unarmed.

Without more weapons, the fighting would continue unabated, leaving behind a country in total ruin, he said.

Meanwhile, rebels are making some advances.

Aside from a few cities surrounded by rebel forces, the riff of Al-Hasakah in the east is under FSA control, said the general. The soldiers are reluctant to attack the city centres, fearing the regime will attack the neighbourhoods with tank fire and missiles.

“In Aleppo last week, 10 scud missiles hit the city,” said Irdiss.

The on-going conflict, nearing its third year, has now officially registered over 1 million refugees by the UN with people fleeing to over-crowded camps in neighbouring countries.

The internal humanitarian disaster is barely being relieved by international assistance.

UN delivery of medical supplies and food airlifted into Damascus airport is distributed and confiscated by the regime. Most, if not all, says Idriss never reaches the liberated areas in the north of the country.

The general wants the international community to divert the shipments to the coalition forces, instead.

The UN aid delivery and supply of weapons by Russia and Iran to al-Assad’s army are rendering the rebel position more difficult.

“We have every respect for Russia but I just wonder how Mr Sergey Lavrov can become Bashar al-Assad’s spokesperson,” said Irdiss.

The general called upon the EU to pressure the Russian Federation to end its support for the regime.

Russia, along with China, had vetoed a UN security resolution to impose a no fly zone that liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt, who organised the Irdiss event, says is desperately needed along with safe havens near the Turkish and Jordanian borders.

With some 70,000 killed and counting, Verhofstadt qualified the European Union’s response to the crisis as one that “lacks courage and lacks vision”.

Al-nusra front

Among the most feared rebel fighters, the Al-nusra front was designated a terrorist group by the United States in December.

The general said the extremist group is most often on the front line and sustains heavy losses. But their victories against the regime are giving them a credibility among the people that must be countered by the FSA.

“The longer this goes on, the more powerful Al-nusra gets,” he warned.

“Across the whole country, they have no more than 5,000, if that,” said Irdiss. Around 500 are foreign fighters that would be kicked out once the regime topples.

“We do not want those people to have influence or to bring those people to bear on our young people,” he said.

Irdiss said the group receives backing and weapons from foreign entities, but could not specify.

“Please help us reduce their prestige in the eyes of the people,” he said.

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