Qatar will help Syr­ian rebels even if Trump ends US role

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Qatar will con­tinue to arm Syr­ian rebels even if Don­ald Trump ends US back­ing for the multi­na­tional ef­fort, Doha’s for­eign min­is­ter said in an in­ter­view, sig­nalling its de­ter­mi­na­tion to pur­sue a pol­icy the US Pres­i­dent-elect may aban­don.

But For­eign Min­is­ter Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man al-Thani said the wealthy Gulf state would not “go solo” and sup­ply shoul­der-fired mis­siles to the rebels to de­fend them­selves against Syr­ian and Rus­sian war­planes.

While the rebels needed more mil­i­tary sup­port, any move to sup­ply “Man­pad” anti-air­craft weapons to them would have to be de­cided col­lec­tively by the rebels’ back­ers, the min­is­ter, a mem­ber of Qatar’s royal fam­ily, told Reuters late on Satur­day.

Some Western of­fi­cials worry that Gulf states, dis­mayed at ef­fec­tive Rus­sian air sup­port for Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar alAs­sad, could sup­ply such weapons. Washington fears they could be seized by ji­hadi groups and used against Western air­lin­ers.

Qatar is a top backer of rebels fight­ing As­sad, work­ing along­side Saudi Ara­bia, Turkey and Western na­tions in a mil­i­tary aid pro­gramme over­seen by the US Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency that pro­vides mod­er­ate groups with arms and train­ing.

Qatar was de­ter­mined to carry on, Sheikh Mo­hammed said, sip­ping tea in his spa­cious of­fice on the min­istry’s top floor over­look­ing the Gulf. “This sup­port is go­ing to con­tinue, we are not go­ing to stop it. It doesn’t mean that if Aleppo falls we will give up on the de­mands of the Syr­ian peo­ple,” he said.

His­toric ally

“Even if the regime cap­tures it (Aleppo), I am sure they will have the abil­ity to cap­ture it back from the regime ... We need more mil­i­tary sup­port, yes, but even more im­por­tant we need to stop the bom­bard­ment and cre­ate safe zones for the civil­ians.” He said As­sad was “the fuel of Daesh” - an acro­nym for Is­lamic State be­cause his forces’ killing of Syr­i­ans helped the hard­line group mo­ti­vate young Syr­ian recruits. “We never see any ef­fort for him fight­ing Daesh,” he said. But Trump has signalled op­po­si­tion to US sup­port for the rebels, in­di­cat­ing he could aban­don them to fo­cus on fight­ing Is­lamic State which con­trols land in east­ern and cen­tral Syria.

He might even co­op­er­ate against IS with Rus­sia, which has been bomb­ing the rebels for more than a year in western Syria. In an in­ter­view pub­lished this month, As­sad said Trump would be a “nat­u­ral ally” if he de­cides to “fight the ter­ror­ists”. “We want to have the US with us, for sure, they have been our his­toric ally,” Sheikh Mo­hammed said.

“But if they want to change their minds, are we go­ing to change our po­si­tion? For us, in Qatar at least, we are not go­ing to change our po­si­tion. Our po­si­tion is based on prin­ci­ples, val­ues and on our as­sess­ment of the sit­u­a­tion there.”

Qatar and other Gulf states be­lieve the na­tion­al­ist Sunni rebels are needed to build a sta­ble Syria. But their pol­icy has long been ham­pered by splits in the op­po­si­tion and the promi­nent role ji­hadists have played in the in­sur­gency. — Reuters

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