BEIRUT (AP) — The chief of Syrian rebel forces said Friday that his fighters are in “desperate” need of weapons and ammunition rather than the food supplies and bandages that the U.S. now plans to provide.
The Obama administration on Thursday announced it was giving an additional $60 million in assistance to the country’s political opposition and said that it would, for the first time, provide non-lethal aid directly to rebels battling to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The move was announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at an international conference on Syria in Rome, and several European nations are expected in the coming days to take similar steps in working with the military wing of the opposition in order to ramp up pressure on Assad to step down and pave the way for a democratic transition.
A number of Syrian opposition figures and fighters on the ground, however, expressed disappointment with the limited assistance.
Gen. Salim Idris, chief of staff of the Syrian opposition’s Supreme Military Council, said the modest package of aid to rebels — consisting of food rations and medical supplies — will not help them win against Assad’s forces who have superior air power.
“We don’t want food and drink and we don’t want bandages. When we’re wounded, we want to die. The only thing we want is weapons,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
“We need anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to stop Bashar Assad’s criminal, murderous regime from annihilating the Syrian people,” he said.
“The whole world knows what we need and yet they watch as the Syrian people are slaughtered.”
Syria’s main rebel units, known together as the Free Syrian Army, regrouped in December under a unified Western-backed rebel command called the Supreme Military Council, following promises of more military assistance once a central council was in place.
But the international community remains reluctant to send lethal weapons, fearing they may fall into the hands of extremists who have made inroads in some places in Syria.
Idris, who defected from the Syrian army and is seen as a secular-minded moderate, denied media reports that the rebels have recently received arms shipments.
Croation officials have also denied reports by local media and The New York Times that arms, including machine guns, rifles and anti-tank grenades used in the Balkan wars in the 1990s have recently been sent to the Syrian rebels.
“These reports are all untrue. Our fighters are suffering from a severe shortage in weapons and ammunition,” Idris said.
“The only weapons we have are the ones we are getting from inside Syria and the weapons we are capturing from the Syrian military,” he said.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.