Syria opposition: Allies must honour weapons 'promises'

The head of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, Ahmed Jarba speaks to the BBC's Jeremy Bowen

The head of Syria's main opposition alliance has said its international allies must honour what he said were pledges to supply heavy weapons.

Ahmed Jarba of the National Coalition told the BBC that he was promised them if Syrian government was at fault for the failure of recent peace talks.

The 11 core members of "The Friends of Syria" - including the US and UK - all blamed President Bashar al-Assad.

"Syrians are paying for time with blood," Mr Jarba warned.

"After Geneva things should be done more quickly" said the president of the Syrian opposition coalition Ahmed Jarba. "Syrians are paying for time with blood."

He thinks there might be one more round of talks in Geneva, but only if the opposition Free Syrian Army is able to change the military balance in its favour first. Then, he said, the Assad regime might be more prepared to negotiate its way out of power.

Mr Jarba says that the core group of 11 countries in the western-organised Friends of Syria group promised the FSA would get heavy weapons if it became clear that the Assad regime was responsible for any breakdown at the Geneva talks. The time has come, Mr Jarba believes, for the 11 to keep their promise.

He was speaking to the BBC at the SOC's modest offices in a suburb of Istanbul. Mr Jarba is still disappointed that the US didn't go through with its threat to bomb the Assad regime in September. He said "if you want to resolve a problem, you should cut off the snake's head…"

In the interview with the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, he also blamed the Syrian government for the presence of Islamist extremists in the conflict, and promised to kick them out of Syria, as he claimed his forces had in several provinces already.

"Our main enemy is the regime that ruled this country for 50 years with fire and iron," he said. "When the revolution kicked off, there were no extremists or terrorists, there were [only] Syrian people looking only for their freedom."

While he admitted that the Assad government was the greater enemy he insisted that "regarding the terrorists, we fought and we will keep fighting against them... because we reject them and the Syrian people reject them as well."

In the interview, conducted at the National Coalition's headquarters in Istanbul, Mr Jarba also admitted he wished the US had gone through with its threat to bomb sites in Syria, saying that, if they had, "the conflict would have been much closer to the end".

"Assad has handed over the chemical weapons to save himself," he explained.

Ahmad Jarba reacts during a news conference in Moscow in February 2014 Syria's secular opposition has lost some ground to Islamist rebel groups since the beginning of the conflict
Ahmed Jarba, president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, speaks at the Friends of the Syrian People meeting on the sidelines of the 68th United Nations General Assembly in September 2013 Not his first, or last, plea for help: Mr Jarba at a Friends of the Syrian People meeting in September 2013

The time had come, Mr Jarba said, for diplomacy to take second place to changing the balance of power on Syria's battlefields in favour of his army, because only then would Assad feel he had to negotiate. "The Assad regime just knows the language of force," he said.

Mr Jarba's international backers may be less confident that is possible, says Jeremy Bowen, given the support the government in Damascus has from Iran and Russia, and the strength of jihadist insurgents who reject both the government and the secular opposition.

But without heavy, particularly anti-aircraft, weapons, Mr Jarba faces an uphill struggle to defeat President Assad, and that is a goal to which he is implacably committed, our correspondent adds.

"Syrians, after paying this price for freedom, won't allow this stupid man to rule them once again - whatever the price is," Mr Jarba said.

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