Saudi seeking ‘Pakistan arms for Syria rebels’

February 24, 2014 - 6:39:13 am

The site of a suicide car bomb attack targeting army check post in the eastern Lebanese town of Hermel near war-torn Syria that killed two soldiers and a civilian on Saturday.

 

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is in talks with Pakistan to provide anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets to Syrian rebels to try to tip the balance in the war to overthrow President Bashar Al Assad, a Saudi source said yesterday.

The United States has long opposed arming the rebels with such weapons, fearing they might end up in the hands of extremists, but Syrian opposition figures say the failure of Geneva peace talks seems to have led Washington to soften its opposition.

Pakistan makes its own version of Chinese shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, known as Anza, and anti-tank rockets —both of which Riyadh is trying to get for the rebels, said the source, who is close to Saudi decision-makers, requesting anonymity.

The source pointed to a visit to Riyadh earlier this month by Pakistan’s army chief of staff, General Raheel Sharif, who met Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz. Prince Salman himself last week led a large delegation to Pakistan, shortly after Saudi’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal visited the kingdom’s key ally. Jordan will be providing facilities to store the weapons before they are delivered to rebels within Syria, the same source said.

There is no confirmation from officials in Saudi, Pakistan or Jordan.

The head of the Syrian opposition, Ahmad Jarba, promised during a flying visit to northern Syria last week that “powerful arms will be arriving soon.”

Rebels have long said that anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets would help tip the balance in the battle against Assad’s forces, which enjoy air superiority.

The nearly-three-year conflict in Syria has torn the country apart, killing more than 140,000 people, including some 50,000 civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, a Syrian rebel commander who fought alongside al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and was close to its current chief, Ayman Al Zawahiri, was killed by a suicide attack on Sunday, intensifying infighting between rival Islamist fighters.

The Observatory for Human Rights in Syria said Abu Khaled Al Soury, also known as Abu Omair Al Shamy, a commander of the Salafi group Ahrar Al Sham was killed along with six comrades by al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It said Al Soury had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Al Soury’s death will fuel the infighting among jihadis fighting President Bashar Al Assad, a violent rivalry that has killed hundreds of fighters in recent months, rebels said.

Two rebels told Reuters that five ISIL members had entered Ahrar Al Sham headquarters in Aleppo, engaged its fighters and then one ISIL fighter blew himself up.

“Sheikh Abu Khaled was an important jihadi figure, he fought the Americans in Iraq and in Afghanistan. They (ISIL) gave the Americans a present, a free gift, by killing him,” said a Syrian rebel close to the group.

“He was a very important commander, he is a close friend of Sheikh Ayman (Al Zawahiri) and he knew Sheikh Bin Laden.”

Syrian rebels mourning al-Soury posted his picture on social media accounts. A fighter called for revenge saying that ISIL had “pushed it too far this time”.

Al Soury was born in Aleppo in 1963. A seior rebel source said he had been based in Afghanistan but was sent by Zawahiri to Syria a few months ago on a mission to try to end the infighting.

Sources said that, by killing al-Soury, ISIL had taken the war between jihadi factions to a new level, and that the decision to kill him must have been taken by the high command of ISIL.

Reuters

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