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In the past few days, there has been some progress in breaking the Syrian stalemate. Not that this will lead to an early solution to the conflict, but if pursued in the same spirit, it can.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry’s tour of the Middle East, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, was a turning point in that he listened to the Gulf leaders and got a clearer picture of the situation in Syria. The Gulf and Arab leaders staunchly believe that the only way forward in Syria is by arming and training the rebels. The rebels are stuck due to lack of weapons as the army of Bashar Al Assad continues to unleash its tanks and missiles on civilians. The Gulf leaders are willing to help, but the US has been hesitant, arguing that weapons could fall in the hands of Islamist extremists. After the Gulf visit, Kerry has come closer to the idea of arming the opposition and, with some persuasion, the US can be made to change its stance. Also, Britain’s position that rebels could be armed has been helpful. London’s position can influence the European policy and ultimately, the day will come soon when Arabs and the West will speak in one voice on the issue.
At a press conference in Doha, which he addressed jointly with John Kerry, Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister H E Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani said that the West wasted precious time by failing to arm the rebels. Assad could have been overthrown if they had changed their stance, he said.
The Arab League meeting in Cairo, which closely followed Kerry’s visit to the region, was also immensely helpful. The meeting declared that member countries can arm the opposition, if they so choose, and took some major decisions to boost the morale of the rebels.
Turkey said yesterday anti-government fighters in Syria were at a disadvantage because they weren’t properly armed, and stopped just short of calling for a European Union arms embargo to be lifted. In some of his strongest comments on the subject so far, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he had discussed the embargo barring delivery of all arms to Syria, with Britain and Germany.
There are also reports that Western training of Syrian rebels is under way in Jordan in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition. The training effort is led by the US, and involves British and French instructors.
Very soon, weapons are likely to flow into Syria. Rebels need to seize the latest opportunity and focus on ousting Bashar Al Assad. Western and Arab support depend on their forging unity and convincing them that they can rule a post-Assad Syria.