Moscow Warns Arab League Over Syria Seat for Rebels

MOSCOW, March 14 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned the Arab League on Thursday that its recent decision to give Syria’s seat to the opposition National Council would legalize arms supplies to militants and terrorists.

The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011, accusing President Bashar al-Assad of using lethal force against protesters. The Arab League offered Syria’s vacant seat to the Syrian National Coalition at a meeting in the Egyptian capital Cairo on March 6.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said the SNC was invited to choose a representative to attend a League summit in the Qatari capital, Doha, on March 26 and 27, Al Jazeera reported. Iraq and Algeria expressed reservations, while Lebanon declined to be associated with the resolution, Elaraby said at a news conference, Al Jazeera said.

The Arab League’s decision to give the SNC the seat facilitates the possibility of legalizing arms supplies to “terrorists,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

“Considering that the most battleworthy force standing up to Syria’s regular army is admittedly Jabhat al Nusra, a terrorist group, it is easy to see who will become the ‘end user’ of that assistance,” Lukashevich said.

He claimed there was still a chance for talks between the Syrian government and the disparate opposition groups.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday Russia is taking no sides in the Syrian conflict and hopes the Syrian opposition will soon form a team to negotiate with government representatives. Moscow has previously said it is ready to provide a venue for negotiations between the Syrian opposition and Syrian authorities.

Earlier this week, during a visit to London with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Lavrov warned Britain against arming the Syrian rebels, saying this would breach international law, The Independent reported. Britain said last week it was ready to supply light armored vehicles to the rebels.

Shoigu said on Wednesday Russia has no plans to increase the scope of its military assistance to Syria. Russia has supplied components for helicopter gunships and air defense systems during the conflict there, but has maintained this was only within the terms of previously signed arms deals with Damascus.

On Tuesday, Moscow criticized the United States’ support for the Syrian opposition. The US State Department said on Monday that Washington will maintain support for the Syrian opposition as this offers the only possible resolution of the conflict in the country.

About 70,000 people have died in Syria since the start of the uprising against President Assad in March 2011, according to UN figures. Russia, along with China, has faced widespread condemnation over its refusal to approve UN sanctions against Assad’s regime.

Moscow has repeatedly claimed it has no interest in seeing Assad remain in power, but is concerned that unilateral sanctions leading to his downfall, creating a power vacuum leading to more violence.

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