Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Salim Idris, the chief of staff of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the US administration has yet to “officially” inform the FSA leadership that the US will provide it with arms.
This comes amid reports that discussions with the Obama administration over providing arms to the Syrian rebels are gaining ground following new indications that the Assad regime may have launched additional chemical weapons attacks.
President Obama previously announced that the US has evidence that chemical weapons have been deployed in Syria, adding that his administration might have to “rethink the range of options” available to it in dealing with the Syrian crisis.
Idris said, “The US administration has yet to officially inform us of its desire to arm us, and we do not know if this decision has been taken as a final decision or not.”
The FSA commander also expressed his hope for “the decision to arm the FSA to be taken as quickly as possible in order to protect the blood of the Syrian people, which has been shed by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad for more than two years.”
A US official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that Washington is still in the process of studying the idea of arming the Syrian rebels, emphasizing that a decision has yet to be taken.
He said, “There are parties within the US administration that support the provision of lethal assistance, while there are other parties that oppose this.”
The US official refused to comment on which Syrian rebel groups the US is thinking about providing arms to, emphasizing that “the Syrian Supreme Military Council is the group that we are currently engaging with and providing non-lethal aid.”
In a letter dated April 30 sent by Idris to US President Barack Obama earlier this week, he said: “As your administration has recently concluded, the Assad regime used chemical weapons against opposition forces and the civilian population in Syria on at least three separate occasions in recent weeks.”
“These are unassailable facts,” he added.
Addressing the US president directly, the letter acknowledged, “The Supreme Military Council of the FSA values your statements regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria. We appreciate, as you noted today at your press conference, the critical importance that facts will play in your analysis. However, I respectfully submit to you that Assad is not taking your carefully phrased condemnation as warnings, but as loopholes that justify his continued use of chemical weapons on a small, strategic scale.”
General Idris added: “As the world has seen, there is no limit to the cruelty that Assad will employ to deny the Syrian people their freedom. There is no limit to the number of men, women and children he will kill, arrest or torture; towns he will destroy; [or] families he will force to flee their homes.”
The letter continued, “Mr. President, I understand the reasons behind your cautious involvement in Syria. But I hope you will not discount the imperatives urging the free world to assist us in protecting our people. We desperately need your support, as the FSA under my command has neither the requisite training nor equipment to counter the effects of Assad’s chemical weapons or to destroy them.”
Idris emphasized, “Now that Assad has crossed your red lines as he had crossed many before, we are calling upon you to help us rid Syria and the world of this cruel dictator and his dangerous chemical weapons.”
The calls for Washington to start arming the Syrian rebels coincided with a Syrian government troop push to oust the FSA from Homs, Syria’s third-largest city.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that troops loyal to President Assad had regained control of the Wadi Sayeh district in central Homs on Thursday morning.
This comes as part of a wider counter-offensive by the Assad regime to reverse rebel gains in Aleppo. Regime forces have also been conducting massive sweeps through rebel-held areas around Damascus in an effort to expel rebels.