British Reconsidering Decision to Arm Syrian Rebels
A leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Free Syrian Army (FSA) has accused British Prime Minister David Cameron of betrayal in the wake of confirmation that the British will not be arming the rebel group.
This is despite last month's announcement by the United Kingdom, United States and nine other countries that they would provide advanced military aid to Syrian rebels. Cameron has faced significant opposition to arming the rebels from within his own Conservative Party due to fears the arms would fall into the hands of Al-Qaida.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that the British government has told the FSA that it will be limiting its aid to equipment to protect against chemical and biological weapons attacks.
"This decision paves the way for Al-Qaida to control opposition fighters," FSA Chief of Staff Gen. Salim Idris said. "The West promises and promises. This is a joke now.
"What are our friends in the West waiting for? For Iran and Hizballah to kill all the Syrian people?"
The British announced Tuesday that they would send 5,000 escape hoods, nerve-agent pre-treatment capsules and chemical-weapons detector paper to the rebels.
The greater irony in the British offer can be found in a Sky News report that British companies had sent the raw ingredients for chemical weapons such as sodium fluoride to Syria over the past few years.
Another FSA spokesman said the rebel group appreciated the British gesture, but it did not go far enough to stop the "criminal who is using these weapons."
Britain's outgoing armed forces chief, Gen. Sir David Richards, told the Daily Telegraph that direct military intervention by Britain and its allies is required to have a "material impact" on Bashar al-Assad's calculations. Such an intervention would mean knocking out the Syrian army's tanks and air defense and a no-fly zone would be insufficient.
Syrian government forces have made strides against the rebels in recent months with help from Hizballah and Iran.
Direct British intervention was unlikely, British Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond told The Guardian Thursday.
"We are not taking anything off the table, but we are being very cautious for reasons I am sure everyone will understand."