- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2013

The Obama administration’s decision to provide military support to the Syrian opposition is a timely one that will help create “a level playing field” in the war against Bashar Assad’s regime, senior Turkish officials said on Friday.

“The White House declaration … makes us very happy,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said at a meeting hosted by the Middle East Institute in Washington.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry denounced as “a caravan of lies” the White House’s declaration that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition many times in the past year.

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Ben Rhodes, deputy National Security Advisor for strategic communications, said on Thursday that the Obama administration would respond to the use of chemical weapons by expanding its military support to the Syrian rebels, but he did not detail what weapons would be provided.

The rebels have been outmatched in their fight against Mr. Assad’s army, which is backed by Iranian-supported Hezbollah fighters and armed by Russia.

“Arming the rebels is a good idea because it will create a level playing field for the opposition,” said Volkan Bozkir, chairman of the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

“If we are expecting a positive outcome in Geneva, I think it is very important to send the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime representatives to Geneva even-handed,” he added.

The U.S. and Russia have supported negotiations in Geneva between the Syrian rebels and representatives of the Assad regime. The talks were expected to take place this month, but have been postponed and are now expected in July.

The Assad regime has said that it will participate in the talks, but the rebels have so far refused to attend.

Mr. Atalay said the U.S. military support was important also because of the prevailing point of view that the talks in Geneva may never materialize.

The White House decision to arm the rebels follows a significant military setback for the opposition.

Earlier this month, Syrian troops and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters seized the strategic town of Qusair, situated close to the border with Lebanon and on the road that connects Damascus to Aleppo. The loss of Qusair cut off a key supply route for the rebels.

The U.S. arms shipments are likely to be delivered to the rebels through Turkey or Jordan, or both.

Turkey favors arming the rebels “as long as it produces a democratic outcome in Syria, but that doesn’t mean that Turkey is giving an open cart to this kind of military operations,” said Mr. Bozkir.

The Assad regime has received military support from Russia and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militants.
Turkey helped make the case that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons during the course of the two-year-old civil war in which more than 90,000 people have been killed.

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