Ruth Sherlock at AP, The Telegraph and therearenosunglasses.com
A demonstration in favor of Bashar al-Assad. Photo: AP
Syrian rebels have held secret talks with Libya’s new authorities, aiming to secure weapons and money for their insurgency against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, it has been revealed.
At the meeting, which was held in Istanbul and included Turkish officials, the Syrians requested assistance from the Libyan representatives and were offered arms and, potentially, volunteers.
”There is something being planned to send weapons and even Libyan fighters to Syria,” a Libyan source said, on condition of anonymity. ”There is a military intervention on the way. Within a few weeks you will see.”
It has also emerged that preliminary discussions about arms supplies took place when members of the Syrian National Council – the country’s main opposition movement – visited Libya earlier this month.
”The Libyans are offering money, training and weapons to the Syrian National Council,” said Wisam Taris, a human rights campaigner with links to the council.
The disclosure came as the Syrian military said rebels had raided an air force base outside the city of Homs and killed six pilots.
Rebel attacks have become daily occurrences since the onset of the insurrection. The conflict has claimed at least 3500 lives, mainly as part of a crackdown on protests by the government.
Syria’s regime has continued to defy pressure from the Arab League, ignoring Friday’s deadline to accept the deployment of 500 human rights observers, raising the possibility that economic sanctions might be agreed upon this weekend.
Last month, Libya’s interim government became the first in the world to recognise Syria’s opposition movement as the country’s ”legitimate authority”.
Activists said large shipments of weapons had not yet been sent, mainly because of logistical difficulties. But proposals for a ”buffer zone” inside Syria, monitored by the Arab League, or the likely emergence of an area inside the country controlled entirely by rebels could solve this problem.
”The [Libyan] council’s offer is serious,” Mr Taris said. Turkey, which has denounced Mr Assad’s regime, is already sheltering about 7000 Syrian opposition activists, including the leader of the Free Syrian Army, the nascent rebel movement, in a ”safe zone” along Turkey’s border with Syria.
Sources in the Libyan town of Misrata suggested that some weapons might already have been sent. Some smugglers were caught selling small arms to Syrian buyers in Misrata, said a man who trafficked guns to Libya’s rebels during the country’s civil war.
However, Libyan officials denied some of the claims. ”This is what you hear in the street,” said the leader of the Misrata military council, Ramadan Zarmoh. ”Officially there is none of this. I would never send any fighters to fight outside the country.”
Ministers from the Arab League are expected to meet in Cairo this weekend to consider sanctions against Syria.
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, pledged on Friday to keep up talks with Syrian opposition groups in an attempt to support a transition to a stable democracy.
Meanwhile, a United Nations human rights panel has called on Syria to respond to reports its security forces had tortured children in their crackdown on anti-government protesters.
The Committee against Torture said in Geneva that it had received ”numerous, consistent and substantiated reports” of widespread abuse occurring since the start of the uprising against Mr Assad’s government eight months ago.
”Of particular concern are reports referring to children who have suffered torture and mutilation while detained,” said the panel’s chairman, Claudio Grossman.
He also cited reports of ”extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; arbitrary detention by police forces and the military; and enforced and involuntary disappearances.”
The committee normally reviews each country’s record every four years, but took the unusual step on Friday of issuing a spontaneous demand to the Syrian government to explain its actions.