Syria's opposition leaders lobby Paris for advanced weapons
PARIS (Reuters) - Syria's opposition coalition said on Tuesday it still did not have enough sophisticated weapons to turn the tide against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and would try to convince Paris to provide more military help.
Speaking ahead of a visit to the United States and the United Nations on Friday, newly elected Syrian National Coalition (SNC) leader Ahmed al-Jarba and rebel military commander General Salim Idriss were in Paris to meet French officials including President Francois Hollande.
"Weapons are one of our objectives," Jarba told reporters after appearing before the French foreign affairs committee. "France has an essential role ... we are asking it for a diplomatic, humanitarian and military aid."
France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last week Paris had still not decided whether to arm Syrian rebels, but said there were indications they were better organized.
France, which has actively supported the rebels in its former colony, led efforts with Britain to have a European Union arms embargo lifted in June.
But France repeatedly hyas said it would not make a decision before August 1 and would need more talks with rebels before it could supply them with heavy weapons. Paris says it still does not feel confident they would not fall into the wrong hands.
Idriss, who will not be part of a the SNC's delegation that will meet the United Nations Security Council on Friday, dismissed those concerns saying that the Islamist role in Syria was overestimated.
He said European nations and the United States were not providing sufficient help militarily and rebels were still not getting the weapons they needed.
"No. We still don't have enough," Idriss told Reuters.
Jarba, who has close links to Saudi Arabia, earlier this month said he hoped to get advanced and medium-range weapons to the Free Syrian Army and the liberated areas by early August.
The SNC has little physical presence in Syria and minimal influence over militant Islamist brigades that play a major role in the fight against Assad's forces.
Jarba said he was working to make the coalition more visible in the liberated areas. He would visit areas in the south, including the cradle of the Syrian revolution Deraa, the east of the country as well as refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey.
As part of that process, the coalition will create a 10-person executive council, or provisional government, that would operate within Syria, Jarba said.
"I think within one month it will be set up. This government has to work within the liberated zones despite the security and military difficulties," he said.
(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Michael Roddy)