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Syria: US hawks push for arming Syrian rebels


US hawkish senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman said Thursday it was time to arm Syria's rebels in the wake of last week's Houla massacre that left 108 civilians dead.

"It's time to act. It's time to give the Syrian opposition the weapons in order to defend themselves. It's not a fair fight," the Republican McCain told reporters in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

McCain attacked Russia and China for opposing aggressive action on Syria, and the US administration of President Barack Obama – who defeated the Republican in the 2008 election – for not acting more forcefully on the issue.

"It is shameful that the United Nations Security Council should again be hindered by Russia and China, by their vetoes for any significant action against Syria," he said.

"It is also embarrassing that the United States of America refuses to show leadership and come to the aid of the Syrian people."

Lieberman, a staunch supporter of Israel, said: "In my opinion this will not get better until the rest of the world at least gives the arms to the Syrian freedom fighters with which they can defend themselves and their families."

US Republicans and hawks have stepped up their campaign against Obama's handling of the Syrian crisis in a bid to score political points ahead of November's presidential elections.

The strategy is to portray Obama as weak, despite serious misgivings in Washington that it can ill-afford to engage in another Middle Eastern conflict.

FSA: no deadline

In a sign of further division among Syrian rebels, Free Syrian Army (FSA) chief Colonel Riyadh Asaad dismissed earlier reports that his group had given the regime a deadline until Friday to halt the violence.

Asaad said no order was given, instead calling on UN special envoy Kofi Annan to declare his six-point peace plan a failure.

"There is no deadline, but we want Kofi Annan to issue a declaration announcing the failure of this plan so that we would be free to carry out any military operation against the regime," Asaad told Al Jazeera, adding that the rebel forces had so far honored their commitments to the plan.

The FSA reportedly released a statement earlier granting the regime a deadline to adhere to Annan's plan or it will resume attacks.

"If the Syrian regime does not meet the deadline by Friday midday, the command of the Free Syrian Army announces that it will no longer be tied by any commitment to the Annan plan ... and our duty will be ... to defend civilians," a FSA statement said.

Insurgent attacks have continued despite the FSA's stated commitment to the ceasefire, highlighting the deep divisions and lack of coordination among rebel groups, many of which appear to be operating independently and for different goals.

World powers disagree

Russia's position on Syria will not shift under pressure from foreign states, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on Thursday.

"Russia's position is well-known. It is balanced and consistent," Interfax quoted spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying. "So it is hardly appropriate to talk about this position changing under someone's pressure."

The United States responded to Russia's refusal to ratchet up pressure on Syria at the UN, warning Moscow that it was on the wrong side of history.

"I would simply say that it is our belief, and it's the belief that we express in these conversations, that supporting the Assad regime is placing oneself or one's nation on the wrong side of history," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

US President Barack Obama discussed the need for an end to the violence in Syria in a video conference with the leaders of France, Germany, and Italy.

The White House said the consultations with French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti represented a follow up to the G8 summit Obama hosted earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Kuwait's foreign minister said in a meeting with his Chinese counterpart he hoped Beijing would support Annan's peace plan for Syria, state-run news agency KUNA reported on Thursday.

"(He said) he hopes China would show support for the joint UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan's plan, aimed at bringing the violence in Syria to a halt," KUNA said.

Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah made the comments during a bilateral meeting with China's Yang Jiechi on the sidelines of a China-Arab cooperation forum in Tunis, KUNA said.

China has reiterated its support for Annan's plan, while Gulf Arab states such as Kuwait have come under criticism from Moscow for undermining the plan by arming Syrian rebels.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman reiterated on Wednesday that China "opposes military intervention and does not support forced regime change."

"The fundamental route to resolving (the crisis) is still for all sides to fully support Annan's mediation efforts," Liu Weimin told a daily news briefing.

(Al-Akhbar, Reuters, AFP)

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