Arming Syrian rebels illegal, says Russia

March 14, 2013 - 3:47:29 am

Valerie Amos (right), Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator of United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, with a Syrian refugee girl at Oncupinar refugee camp in Kilis, Turkey, yesterday.

LONDON/damascus: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned yesterday that arming Syrian rebels would breach international law, after Western powers dropped growing hints about giving military aid. Speaking in London after talks with his British counterpart William Hague, Lavrov also reiterated that it was for Syrians to decide the future of President Bashar Al Assad.

Lavrov’s comments came a day after Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain would consider ignoring a European Union arms ban and supplying weapons to Syrian rebels if necessary.

“Arming the opposition is in breach of international law,” Lavrov said at a joint press conference with Hague, British Defence Minister Philip Hammond and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. “International law does not allow, does not permit supplies of arms to non-governmental actors and in our point of view it is a violation of international law.” Lavrov rejected any chance of Russia urging Assad to step aside.

“I believe the destiny of Bashar Al Assad should be decided by the Syrians themselves,” he said.

With the conflict in Syria worsening, Western powers have stepped up non-military support for Syria’s rebels, even as Russia has continued to arm its ally Assad. Britain is currently giving “non-lethal” support to the rebels but Hague and Hammond refused to rule out the possibility of arming them.

Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood called yesterday for a week of action both in the strife-torn country and elsewhere to mark the two years since the revolt broke out against President Bashar Al Assad.

“We in the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria declare the week following March 15 a national week of solidarity with the Syrian people and their blessed revolution,” the exiled opposition group said.

“We call on the heroic Syrian people to bring back to life all aspects of the uprising... inspired by the spirit of real national unity, speaking in one voice,” a statement added. Protesters in towns and cities across Syria have taken to the streets every Friday since March 15, 2011 to call for the fall of Assad. The banned Muslim Brotherhood was forced out of Syria by Assad’s father and predecessor Hafez after the brutal repression of an Islamist-led anti-regime movement in the early 1980s.

Dissidents say the group plays a significant role in the opposition today. In its statement, the Brotherhood also called on “people in Arab and Islamic countries, and on free people everwhere in the world... to consider March 15 to 22 a week of global support to the Syrian people... with marches, demonstrations and sit-ins”.

The organisation also renewed its criticism of the international community’s paralysis over the Syrian crisis.

“The Syrian people, men, women, old and young, carry out wonderful acts of bravery and make sacrifices, holding out despite the regime’s massacres and its crimes against defenceless civilians,” said the Brotherhood.

But “the international community has watched and listened on, failing the Syrian people, and failing to fulfil its legal and humanitarian responsibilities,” it added.

Syria’s uprising morphed into an insurgency after the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown on dissent. The conflict has left some 70,000 people dead, the UN says.

Syria’s air force raided the strife-torn district of Baba Amr in the central city of Homs yesterday, four days after rebels infiltrated the neighbourhood that has seen some of the two-year revolt’s fiercest battles, a watchdog said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said two children were killed and 30 people were wounded by mortar fire in Damascus. Clashes also raged near the sensitive border with Lebanon, it said, while the regime’s intelligence forces used heavy machinegun fire to target rebel enclaves around the ancient city of Palmyra.

“A warplane carried out a new raid targeting the district of Baba Amr,” said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers for its information.