Syrian rebel group casts new doubt on peace process, wants missiles

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 10, 2016 4:46 AM

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A big Syrian rebel group said it was unacceptable to talk about a political solution to the war as people die of hunger and bombardment and the best way to force Damascus toward a settlement was to give insurgents anti-aircraft missiles.

The statement from Islam Army (Jaysh al-Islam) underlines opposition concerns over a U.N.-led diplomatic effort to launch peace talks in Geneva on Jan. 25. The opposition want goodwill measures including a ceasefire, a detainee release and the lifting of blockades on besieged areas before negotiations.

U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura is shuttling around the region to prepare for the talks, part of a plan endorsed by the Security Council last month to end the five-year-war that has killed 250,000 people and created millions of refugees.

Islam Army, part of a newly formed council set up to oversee the negotiations on the opposition side, said the "best way to force the regime to accept the (political) solution and stick by it" was to allow states that back the opposition to supply rebels with anti-aircraft missiles.

The statement, sent by the group's spokesman overnight, said it would guarantee the missiles would not reach groups that would use them "illegally".

While foreign governments including the United States and Saudi Arabia have provided rebels with military support, they have resisted demands for such missiles for fear they would end up with hardline jihadist groups such as Islamic State.

The Syrian government says Islam Army is a terrorist group, like all the groups that fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, who has received crucial support from Russia and Iran. Both states have sent forces to help him fight the insurgency.

The Syrian government told de Mistura on Saturday it was ready to take part in Geneva talks but stressed the need to see the names of the Syrian opposition figures who will take part.

Pointing to another potential complication, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem also stressed the need for the government to obtain a list of groups that would be classified as terrorists as part of the peace process.

Islam Army said the success of the success of the political process "depended on the seriousness of the international community in putting pressure on the criminal regime to halt the killing".

Opposition officials have already cast doubt on whether the talks will go ahead on schedule, citing the need to see the goodwill measures from the government side.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Andrew Heavens)