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Back us or we'll turn into terrorists: Syrian rebels

Saturday, 10 November 2012 - 11:51am IST | Agency: The Daily Telegraph
In an interview in his base in rebel-occupied Syria, General Mustafa al-Sheikh unveiled a new leadership of the Higher Military Council of the FSA, which he heads.

The leader of the Free Syrian Army has called on the outside world to back the rebels before they all "turn into terrorists".

In an interview in his base in rebel-occupied Syria, General Mustafa al-Sheikh unveiled a new leadership of the Higher Military Council of the FSA, which he heads.

He said he welcomed David Cameron's decision to engage with the rebels and even consider organising arms supplies, but said war was spreading to surrounding countries, the rebels were fractured and speed was of the essence.

"If there's no quick decision to support us, we will all turn into terrorists," he said. "If you apply the pressure that's been applied to Syria, it will explode in all directions. Terrorism will grow quickly."

General Sheikh was the first of a number of regime army generals to defect to the rebels, joining Colonel Riad al-Assad at the head of the FSA. However, the rebels fighting the battles on the ground are not only divided among themselves but often refuse to recognise his leadership. Aware that this is a major reason for the reluctance of Western powers to arm them or encourage their Middle Eastern allies to supply the rebel forces, General Sheikh announced a unified command structure yesterday (Friday), dividing Syria into five commands each with a defected general at its head.

He published a manifesto demanding respect for Syria's unity and for human rights, especially the rights of prisoners, which he wants all rebel leaders to sign. He suggested it could become the basis of a new Syrian constitution.

He said Britain and other countries should tie aid to this manifesto, claiming that other rebel groups are better funded. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and private fund-raisers, are said to favour Islamist rebel groups over more secular rebels.

Qatar is hosting a fresh attempt to unite the political leaders of the opposition, which has been dogged by rows in the Syrian National Council and between it and other ideological groupings.

The Syrian National Initiative will have a core of 60 members, a military committee and a judicial committee. The 60 will appoint a technocratic government.

"The Qataris are sick of funding a circus. This is why this new initiative has been proposed. This is why the opposition know there has to be an outcome from the meetings," a Western diplomat told The Daily Telegraph.

Middle Eastern diplomats involved in drawing up a blueprint for a transitional Syrian government say it has been promised funds, including $280?million (pounds 175?million) from the US and possible military support.

But Jamal al-Wa'ard, an SNC member, said: "We have negotiated a mechanism by which we can defend ourselves against Assad's planes," suggesting it had been promised better anti-aircraft weapons, such as modern shoulder-mounted missiles.


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