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Syria opposition chief in France to seek support, arms

Syrian opposition leader is trying to convince France to boost its support for rebels battling Bashar al-Assad

AFP , Tuesday 23 Jul 2013

Syria's new opposition chief Ahmad Jarba arrived in Paris on Tuesday for a two-day visit aimed at convincing France to boost its support for rebels battling Bashar al-Assad.

Jarba, accompanied on the trip by Free Syrian Army (FSA) chief Selim Idriss and other opposition leaders, was to meet President Francois Hollande on Wednesday.

It was Jarba's first visit to France since he was elected head of the main opposition Syrian National Coalition on July 6.

After France, Jarba was to head to New York for meetings at the United Nations. Britain said it had convened an informal meeting of the 15-nation Security Council, including Russia and China, with the opposition leadership on Friday.

French officials said talks were also being planned for the opposition with London and Berlin.

A French diplomatic source said Idriss was expected to press rebel demands for Western arms, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

The rebellion's Western backers have been sceptical of supplying weapons to the opposition, amid fears they could fall into the hands of radical Islamists.

"The priority for the Coalition is to be able to obtain arms for the Free Army, not only because Bashar al-Assad's regime is receiving enormous amounts of weapons from Russia and Iran and has retaken the initiative on several fronts, but also because there is a need to strengthen the Free Army in the face of jihadist groups," said Ziad Majed, a professor at the American University of Paris.

But the diplomatic source said Paris would be insisting in the talks on the "political perspective" of resolving Syria's civil war.

"First of all they are coming to meet the president to explain who they are, what is their strategy, what they want to do with the Coalition, what they want to do with Syria but also with the opposition," the source said.

Jarba, who is part of a faction of veteran secular dissidents and is seen as close to Saudi Arabia, has criticised some rebels' links with Islamist groups.

The diplomatic source said the delegation would be looking to show that "they represent an alternative that respects civil and democratic rights."

The meetings come amid a deadlock in efforts to convene a follow-up to last year's Geneva conference on establishing a transitional government.

The military battle is also in stalemate, with the UN saying up to 100,000 people have been killed since protests against Assad started in March 2011.

Jarba said this week his top priority as the opposition's new leader was "securing arms for the Free Syrian Army fighters as soon as possible."


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