London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The head of the Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed Jarba, repeated his calls for Western powers to supply Syria’s rebels with arms on a visit to Washington, DC, on Wednesday, but ruled out calls for direct Western intervention in the conflict.
Speaking at an event organized by one of the city’s many think tanks, Jarba said Syrian rebel fighters needed “efficient weapons to face these attacks, including air raids, so we can change the balance of power on the ground.”
The head of the Coalition, an umbrella group of opponents of the Syrian government, said that air raids by government forces were making Syrians’ lives “a nightmare,” and that rebels needed weapons that would allow them the “neutralize the air force.”
The Syrian military, which for the most part lacks sophisticated targeting systems and “smart bombs,” regularly conducts indiscriminate bombing raids on opposition-held areas, according to Syrian activists and human rights organizations.
According to press reports and video footage on social networking sites, some Syrian rebel groups have recently received a small number of US-made anti-tank TOW missiles and launchers. But US officials remain reluctant to supply portable anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian rebels for fear that they may fall into the hands of jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda, which are playing an increasingly prominent role in the war against the Syrian government.
Speaking through a translator, Jarba also said that “the crisis has become [more] than we Syrians can handle,” but added that the Coalition and its allies rejected the idea of foreign troops in Syria, and did not want the US and its allies “to send their sons to Syria.”
Jarba’s pleas came as Syrian government forces and rebels continued to battle for control of key cities in the country. In Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital, a powerful bomb reportedly exploded under a hotel used by the Syrian army as a local headquarters on Thursday, demolishing the structure, according to state media reports and activists.
The Carlton Citadel Hotel, a popular destination for tourists before the outbreak of war in 2011, is located close to the city’s ancient citadel, which dates back to the 13th century.
The attack follows recent rebel attempts to push back against government forces, which stepped up efforts to expel them from Syria’s second city in December. It also comes a day after over a thousand rebel fighters were evacuated from the city of Homs, ending a brutal two-year siege.
The withdrawal, part of a UN-brokered temporary ceasefire agreement, is likely to be seen as a symbolic victory for the forces of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. Homs has played a prominent role in the uprising against his rule, with some referring to it as the “capital of the revolution.”
It also lies in a key strategic position, linking the capital, Damascus, with the coastal province of Latakia, a stronghold of Assad’s minority Alawite sect.