Syria’s ambassador to Russia said Saudi Arabia and Qatar are sabotaging a United Nations plan to end a 15-month conflict by continuing to arm rebels in violation of a cease-fire agreement reached in April.
“Weapons are entering Syria through its borders with Lebanon and Turkey,” Riad Haddad said in an interview at the Syrian embassy in Moscow today. “And these are heavy weapons.”
Lebanese authorities at the end of April seized a ship originating in Libya that was carrying anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles destined for Syrian opposition groups, Haddad said. While President Bashar al-Assad’s forces announced an end to hostilities April 12, in line with the UN accord, violence has persisted because rebels are pursuing attacks, Haddad said.
More than 10,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad started in March last year, according to UN estimates. That includes a massacre last week in Houla that claimed 108 lives, 49 of them children, which the UN blames on a pro-government militia. Syria says opposition forces carried out the killings to provoke civil war and international intervention. The U.S. and its allies expelled Syrian diplomats to condemn the attack on Houla, near Homs.
“The key to a solution lies in the hands of those countries which are supporting and financing terrorist groups,” Haddad said. “They should state if they are against terrorism and these groups and will stop financing them and support the Annan plan.”
UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan, in the wake of the Houla atrocity, called on Assad’s government and opposition forces to halt the violence and abide by the cease-fire agreement.
“I also ask all states with influence to impress upon the government and all parties the need for a cessation of violence in all its forms, including the continuing human rights abuses,” Annan told journalists in Damascus after meeting with Assad on May 29, according to the UN’s website.
Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have publicly voiced support for arming the rebels. An official at Qatar’s embassy in Moscow declined to comment on Syria’s claim that his government is funneling weapons and money to the rebels, and nobody authorized to speak on the record could be reached for comment at the Saudi Embassy. Both countries are ruled by Sunni monarchies that are at odds with mainly Shiite Iran, an ally of Syria.
The U.S. is supplying medical and communications equipment to rebels, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on May 16. The Washington Post had reported that the U.S. is helping to co-ordinate the provision of military material funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states.
“The U.S. knows exactly what is going on, it supports it,” said Haddad. He added that Turkey was also involved by providing training for the armed Syrian opposition groups.
The mass killing in Houla hasn’t broken an impasse in the UN Security Council, where Russia continues to block attempts to impose more economic pressure or military action against Syria. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday said Russia’s stance on Syria is “propping up” Assad’s regime.
Russia says it favors a negotiated outcome in Syria similar to the talks mediated by the Gulf Cooperation Council in Yemen that paved the way for the departure of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and replacement by his deputy this year.
Assad isn’t ready to step down and Syria won’t accept a solution similar to what happened in Yemen, said Haddad.
“President Assad enjoys a wide popularity in Syria and our army supports him too and the leadership is conducting reforms,” the Syrian envoy said. “So I completely rule out the Syrian leadership accepting the Yemeni scenario.”
The massacre in Houla was carried out by several hundred rebel gunmen, General Qassem Jamal Suleiman, who heads the Syrian investigation into the killings, said yesterday.
The rebel assault started with the firing of two anti-tank missiles that killed 31 members of the security forces stationed outside of Houla, according to Haddad. “The main aim was to cause the failure of the Annan plan and to provoke foreign military intervention,” he said.