Syria opposition seeks anti-aircraft weapons
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Syria opposition seeks anti-aircraft weapons

Arab nations call for strengthening rebels’ weaponry, changing balance of power; US concerned about arming extremists

Syrian rebels fire locally made shells against Syrian government forces, in Aleppo, Syria, February 15, 2015 (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, Aleppo Media Center)
Syrian rebels fire locally made shells against Syrian government forces, in Aleppo, Syria, February 15, 2015 (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center, Aleppo Media Center)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Syria’s main opposition group called Monday for foreign allies to supply rebel forces with ground-to-air weapons to counter deadly air raids in Aleppo.

Gathered for two days of talks in the Saudi capital, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) umbrella group denounced the “scorched earth policy” of President Bashar Assad and his allies.

Regime troops and Russian warplanes have intensified airstrikes on Aleppo in recent weeks, killing dozens of civilians and raising widespread international concern.

HNC spokesman Salem al-Meslet said after the talks that the opposition was counting on “brotherly countries and friends… to lift the embargo on sophisticated weapons imposed on the opposition.”

Washington’s Arab allies, led by Saudi Arabia, have demanded that opposition rebels fighting Assad be given advanced weapons such as MANPADS — shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

Experts say this might alter the balance of power on the battlefield and make Damascus more ready to talk, but US officials worry the arms could fall into the hands of extremists.

Riyadh was instrumental in the formation late last year of the HNC, which unites an array of rebel and political opposition factions.

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