Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) camouflage captured tanks with foliage after taking control of a checkpoint from government forces in Anadan, north Aleppo. (Reuters)
Al Arabiya, 01 August 2012 - The U.N. mission in Syria has confirmed that opposition forces in the city of Aleppo have “tanks” and “heavy weapons,” the U.N. spokesman said Wednesday.
“The observers now have confirmed information that the opposition is in possession of heavy weapons including tanks in Aleppo,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters at the U.N. headquarters.
Unarmed observers from the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria went to the northern city on Tuesday. Aleppo has been under siege from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for more than a week.
UNSMIS has also reported seeing a fighter jet attacking the city.
More than 200,000 people have fled Aleppo, according to the U.N. and Nesirky said many of the inhabitants remaining have taken shelter in schools and other public buildings.
The Syrian opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), reported on Wednesday that about 131 people were killed in Damascus and Aleppo.
Experts urge U.S. to help rebels
Meanwhile, experts said on Wednesday that Washington must boost backing for Syrian rebels, including possible arms and air support, and lay out red lines for the Assad regime of what would spark military intervention.
The longer the 17-month conflict in Syria drags on, the greater the danger of mass atrocities and suffering, they told U.S. lawmakers.
And the lack of stronger U.S. action could also leave the way open for militants to move in and exploit the confusion, perhaps triggering a drawn-out sectarian conflict, and presaging an even more difficult situation once President Assad falls, they warned.
“The consequences are very bad, and they are coming down the road... that’s why I think it’s important for us to step up active engagement, but to do it in a wise way,” Martin Indyk, ex-U.S. ambassador to Israel, told a Senate hearing.
Indyk, now director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, warned however that “we need to know who we are arming” saying he was not sure the United States had a clear handle yet on all the different groups which make up the Syrian opposition and their objectives.
U.S. policy in Syria to date was criticized by Andrew Tabler, expert from the Institute for Near East Policy, who said Assad had time and time again flouted all the ultimatums he had been given by the international community.
News that Syria was now moving its chemical weapon stockpile raised the specter of greater atrocities or even genocide, in a conflict which has already cost some 20,000.
“Washington and its allies must lay down and enforce red lines prohibiting the use of Syria’s chemical weapons,” Tabler told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
He advocated “issuing a stark warning to Assad that mass atrocities in Syria will be met with an immediate military response.”
Tabler said he feared “the next government in Syria will more likely than not be both suspicious and hostile to U.S. interests.
“The reason is simple, Washington invested too much time in diplomacy at the United Nations instead of directly helping the Syrian people hasten Bashar al-Assad’s demise.”
Director for international security at the RAND Corporation James Dobbins said one further step could be imposing a “no-fly” zone over some or all of Syria, which need some kind of U.S. participation.
“Doing so would present a tougher challenge than faced during the air campaigns over Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq, in none of which the United States lost a single pilot, but the task is hardly beyond the capacity of the United States,” he told senators.
He cautioned though that there should be several pre-conditions including that the Syrian opposition asked for such help, and that the Arab League endorsed any such call.
Most NATO allies should also support the plan, but while a U.N. Security Council mandate would be “highly desirable, as demonstrated in Kosovo, (it is) not absolutely necessary,” he said.
France to detail U.N. plan on Syria
Meanwhile, France said as it took over the month-long rotating chair of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday it will shortly outline its plans for a new push by the body to solve a diplomatic impasse over the worsening conflict.
The French government has already said it will call by the end of this week for an urgent meeting of the United Nations’ Council, likely at ministerial level, following calls from President Francois Hollande for swift action.