The chief of Syrian rebel forces says his fighters are in “desperate” need of weapons and ammunition rather than the food supplies and bandages that the US now plans to provide.
The Obama administration yesterday announced it was giving an additional 60 million dollars (£40 million) in assistance to the country’s political opposition and said that it would, for the first time, provide non-lethal aid directly to rebels battling to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Several European nations are expected to take similar steps in working with the military wing of the opposition to ramp up pressure on Mr Assad to step down and pave the way for a democratic transition.
A number of Syrian opposition figures and fighters on the ground, however, expressed disappointment with the limited assistance.
Gen Salim Idris, chief of staff of the Syrian opposition’s Supreme Military Council, said the modest package of aid to rebels – consisting of an undetermined amount of food rations and medical supplies – will not help them win against Mr Assad’s forces who have superior air power.
“We don’t want food and drink and we don’t want bandages. When we’re wounded, we want to die. The only thing we want is weapons,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
“We need anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to stop Bashar Assad’s criminal, murderous regime from annihilating the Syrian people,” he said. “The whole world knows what we need and yet they watch as the Syrian people are slaughtered.”
Syria’s main rebel units, known together as the Free Syrian Army, regrouped in December under a unified Western-backed rebel command called the Supreme Military Council, following promises of more military assistance once a central council was in place.
But the international community remains reluctant to send lethal weapons, fearing they may fall into the hands of extremists who have made inroads in some places in Syria.
Gen Idris, who defected from the Syrian army and is seen as a secular-minded moderate, denied media reports that the rebels have recently received arms shipments.
Croatian officials have also denied reports that arms, including machine guns, rifles and anti-tank grenades used in the Balkan wars in the 1990s have recently been sent to the Syrian rebels.
“These reports are all untrue. Our fighters are suffering from a severe shortage in weapons and ammunition,” Gen Idris said.
“The only weapons we have are the ones we are getting from inside Syria and the weapons we are capturing from the Syrian military,” he said.
Gen Idris spoke from northern Syria where fierce clashes continued between government forces and rebels attacking a police academy near Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial hub.
Rebels backed by captured tanks have been trying to storm the police academy outside the city since launching a new offensive there last week. Activists say the academy, which has become a key front in the wider fight for Aleppo, has been turned into a military base used to shell rebel-held neighbourhoods in the city and the surrounding countryside.
The Syrian state news agency said today that government troops defending the school had killed dozens of opposition fighters and destroyed five rebel vehicles.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group also reported heavy fighting around the school, and said there were several rebel casualties without providing an exact figure.
Near the capital, Damascus, activists said the bodies of 10 men – most of them shot in the head – were found dumped on the side of a road between the suburbs of Adra and Dumair.