LONDON: Western and Arab nations vowed yesterday to try to funnel more aid to desperate Syrians and “ramp up” support for moderate rebels, as the US backed claims that chemical arms had again been unleashed in the conflict.
The Friends of Syria group meeting in London also poured scorn on Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s plan to press ahead with presidential elections on June 3, despite the raging civil war.
Assad’s “staged elections are a farce, they’re an insult; they are a fraud”, US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters after the talks.
A joint statement from the 11 countries at the London talks described the election as “illegitimate” and “a parody of democracy” urging the international community to reject the results.
Ministers from the Friends of Syria group — Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States — were meeting for the first time since January.
“We have to redouble our efforts, all of us, in support of the moderate opposition in order to bring about a peaceful resolution that the people of Syria want,” Kerry said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague added: “We are of course united in our disgust and anger at what is happening in Syria, and the regime’s utter disregard for human life.”
Hague said the group was determined “to step up our efforts to deliver humanitarian aid across borders and across lines irrespective of the consent of the regime”.
The United States, which has put up some $1.7bn in humanitarian aid, also voiced frustration at the bottleneck in getting food and supplies to desperate civilians.
“It is not getting to people. It’s going through one gate, one entryway, and it’s going through Damascus and/or controlled by the Assad regime. That’s unacceptable,” Kerry said.
“We’re going to join with other countries in an effort to try to guarantee accountability through the UN in making that happen.”
With 3.5 million Syrians in areas that aid convoys are able to reach only sporadically, and with over 240,000 stuck in besieged communities, blockades have become a powerful tool by both sides.
Kerry also revealed that he had seen “raw data” which suggested chlorine had been used as a chemical weapon in Syria, supporting accusations made by France.
And he insisted that if such use was proven there would be accountability before organisations such as the International Criminal Court.
In a diplomatic boost to the Syrian opposition, Britain announced it had upgraded the status of their London office to a mission.
Hague said the move was “in recognition of the strength of our partnership” with the National Coalition headed by Ahmad Jarba.
Britain will also provide an extra £30m in “practical support” for the opposition, Hague said.
Meanwhile, a reporter and a photographer for British daily The Times, Anthony Loyd and photographer Jack Hill, were recovering in Turkey yesterday after being kidnapped, shot and beaten while in Syria.
BEIRUT: Rebels detonated 60 tonnes of explosives packed underneath a large Syrian army base, blowing a hillside hundreds of metres into the air, an insurgent in the operation who provided footage of the attack said yesterday.
The casualty toll from the blast was not immediately known.
An Islamic Front commander said that his brigade dug a 850-metre tunnel underneath Wadi Al Deif base, which is surrounded by rebels but is under government control.
Footage of the base provided by the commander showed the ground balloon up before breaking into a cloud of earth that engulfs the area.
The commander said the attack would help rebels break into the base, which has been used for attacks in the surrounding province of Idlib.
“Another attack like this and we won’t even need to move in to take the base,” he said via Skype, adding that once rebels take the base they would control all of the south Idlib, which is situated in Syria’s northwest bordering on Turkey.