July 12, 2013

Al-Qaida linked gunmen kill Syrian rebel commander

A Syrian activist group says members of a merged group made up of al-Qaida's branches in Iraq and Syria were behind the shooting.

By Barbara Surk / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

President Barack Obama recently said the U.S. is willing to send weapons to the opposition. Even so, Washington has been reluctant to arm the rebels battling Assad's troops because radical Islamic groups, including some with al-Qaida links, have emerged as their most effective fighting force. Western countries have also been concerned over the lack of unified command among rebel groups.

"The Syrian Coalition is deeply concerned by reports indicating that elements in the U.S. Congress are delaying the administration's efforts to increase its support to the Free Syrian Army" said the statement late Thursday.

The coalition will ensure "that arms will not reach extremist elements," it added.

More than 93,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict that erupted in March 2011 with largely peaceful protests against Assad's rule but escalated into a civil war in response to a brutal government crackdown.

Over the past year, the conflict became increasingly sectarian, with mostly-Sunni rebels assisted by foreign fighters while Assad's forces are bolstered by fighters of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.

The regime in Damascus is also backed by Russia and Iran, and Moscow has continued to supply Assad with weapons throughout the crisis, saying it is fulfilling existing contracts.

In May, Russia acknowledged it has agreed to sell Syria advanced S-300 air defense missiles, which are considered to be the cutting edge in aircraft interception technology. It was not clear if any of those missiles have been shipped to Damascus and Moscow did not give a time frame on the deliveries.

The U.S., its European and Gulf allies have backed the opposition in the conflict, sending funds and non-lethal aid to the rebels.

There have been fissures among Western nations over sending arms to the opposition despite the countries' shared belief that Assad must leave power. Britain and France in May and successfully pushed for the European Union to allow an arms embargo preventing the flow of weapons into Syria to expire. However, both counties emphasized they have no immideate plans to send rebels weapons.

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