Syrian opposition head expects advanced weapons to reach rebels

ISTANBUL Sun Jul 7, 2013 11:43pm BST

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The new president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition said on Sunday he expected advanced weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia to reach rebel fighters soon and change their military situation, which he described as weak.

Ahmad Jarba, who has close links to Saudi Arabia, told Reuters in the first interview since he was elected president of the coalition on Saturday that the opposition will not go to a proposed U.S.- and Russian-sponsored peace conference in Geneva unless its military position becomes strong.

"Geneva in these circumstances is not possible. If we are going to go to Geneva we have to be strong on the ground, unlike the situation now, which is weak. We cannot go to Geneva unless we are strong," Jarba said after returning from the northern Syrian province of Idlib, where he met commanders of rebel brigades in the rugged Jabal al-Zawiya region.

Asked if shoulder-fired weapons that could blunt Assad's massive advantage in armour would reach the rebels after Saudi Arabia took a lead role in supporting the opposition in recent weeks, Jarba said: "We are pushing in this direction."

"I think the situation is better than before. I think these weapons will arrive to Syria soon," he said.

"My priority to secure two-tier support for the Syrian people: military and humanitarian. We are working qualitative and medium and other weapons to reach the Free Syrian army and the liberated areas."

Jarba offered Assad's forces a truce for the duration of the holy month of Ramadan to stop fighting in the besieged city of Homs, where rebels face a ferocious ground and air onslaught by Hezbollah-backed troops and militias loyal to Assad.

Jarba was speaking in Istanbul where he had been elected president of the Syrian National Coalition at a meeting this weekend.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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