World powers to meet on Syrian rebel demands

PARIS (AP) — World powers will meet this weekend in Qatar to decide on how to answer a list of requests for help from Syrian rebels, a French diplomat said Wednesday.

The U.S., France, Britain and Germany are among 11 countries meeting in Doha as part of the Friends of Syria group. Foreign ministers will be attending the discussions.

A “precise” list of demands from Syrian rebels was set out Friday during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, with Free Syrian Army Gen. Salim Idris, who spelled out urgent needs ranging from equipment to sophisticated arms, the diplomat said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to be publicly named while discussing sensitive diplomatic issues.

The U.S. decided last week to send arms to the rebels, and Britain and France have stressed the need to level the playing field for the rebels against Syria’s military. A balance of power on the ground between rebels of the Free Syrian Army and forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad is considered crucial to holding planned peace negotiations in Geneva. No date for those talks has been set, but leaders at the Group of Eight meeting this week in Northern Ireland all agreed talks should start soon.

The French diplomat refused to provide details of what exactly was on the “broad list” — except to say it covers anti-aircraft weapons, and he refused to hint what France might be prepared to provide. However, he stressed that a “collective and complementary” approach by 11 nations is an optimal way of exploring the list and, ultimately, delivering.

“It’s a list that corresponds to needs of Free Army joint chiefs to respond to challenges posed by the growing … regime forces and their allies …,” he said. He was referring to the forces of Iran-backed Hezbollah which have joined Russian-backed Syrian government troops, fighters from Iraq, which the official placed at several hundred and climbing, and Iranians on the ground, too.

Assad’s troops dealt a major blow to rebels earlier this month, changing the balance of power by pushing rebels out of the strategic town of Qusair near the Lebanese border, with Hezbollah’s help.

The U.N. says Syria’s more than two-year-old civil war has killed more than 93,000 people.

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