Saudi prince in call to arm Syrian rebels

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Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief and brother of Saudi Arabia's foreign minister.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief and brother of Saudi Arabia's foreign minister.

A senior member of Saudi Arabia's monarchy called on Friday for Syrian rebels to be given anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to "level the playing field" in their battle against President Bashar al-Assad.

Insurgents in Syria have seized territory in the north of the country and control suburbs to the east and south of the capital, but Assad's air power and continued army strength have limited their advances 22 months into the conflict.

"I'm not in government so I don't have to be diplomatic. I assume we're sending weapons and if we were not sending weapons it would be terrible mistake on our part," said Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief and brother of Saudi Arabia's foreign minister.

"You have to level the playing field. Most of the weapons the rebels have come from captured Syrian stocks and defectors bringing their weapons," he said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos.

"What is needed are sophisticated, high-level weapons that can bring down planes, can take out tanks at a distance. This is not getting through."

More than 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which started nearly two years ago with mainly peaceful protests but has mushroomed into a civil war that has driven half a million people from the country and displaced many more.

Syria has accused Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United States and France of funding and arming the rebels, something they have all denied. But UN diplomats say that weapons are clearly reaching the rebels via Gulf Arab states and Turkey.

Saudi Arabia has called in the past for the rebels to be armed, but diplomats say that Western countries are reluctant to allow sophisticated weapons into the country, fearing they would fall into the hands of increasingly powerful Islamist forces.

The United States has designated one Islamist group in Syria - the Nusra Front - as a terrorist organisation and expressed concern about the growing Islamist militant strength in Syria.

But the Saudi prince said foreign powers should have enough information on the many rebel brigades to ensure weapons only reached specific groups.

"Levelling the plain militarily should go hand in hand with a diplomatic initiative ... You can select the good guys and give them these means and build their credibility," he said.

"Now they don't have the means, and the extremists have the means and are getting the prestige."

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Posted by: Anon

How does he feel about arming the uprising in his own country and Bahrain where poor people are asking for democracy and a better share of the wealth and how the country is run! A reply on this question will now doubt go unanswered.

Posted by: Hisham

A democracy would be great news, for Burger King and McDonalds... As for solving all kinds of socio-economic issues these countries face, hardly. On top of that, Western forms of democracies as currently in place are heavily outdated. Voting for a president or PM who sits in office for X-number of years to make all the decisions thereafter, and then judging them in retrospect, not very advanced in a world where 85% of populations can be reached everywhere and always through modern communication technologies. What people want instead of democracy, is currency, cash. Some countries should understand that instead of demolishing their country through uprisings and putting a new puppet with empty pockets in place (and all whom he appoints to rebuild and fill their pockets), they might be better off with the one in seat who has already filled his pockets..

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