But they stressed that this was just a temporary setback and reaffirmed their support for the “moderate” Syrian opposition, even as its hapless leader fled in the face of the Islamic jihadist advance.
(Reuters) – The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to northern Syria after Islamist fighters seized Western-backed rebel weapons warehouses, highlighting fears that supplies could end up in the wrong hands.
The rebel Free Syrian Army fighting President Bashar al-Assad said the U.S. and British moves were rushed and mistaken. “We hope our friends will rethink and wait for a few days when things will be clearer,” FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad said.
In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States was concerned about reports that Islamic Front forces had seized the buildings belonging to the Syrian Military Council, which is nominally in charge of the FSA.
“As a result of the situation … the United States has suspended all further deliveries of non-lethal assistance into northern Syria,” Earnest said, adding that humanitarian aid was not affected by the move.
The suspension underlines a crisis for the FSA leadership, which needs international backing to reinforce its credibility and to stop its fighters joining al Qaeda-backed Islamist militants who now dominate the war with Assad.
Fighters from the Islamic Front, which groups six major rebel brigades and which said last week it had quit the FSA, seized the headquarters of the Syrian Military Council and weapons warehouses at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey.
A U.S. official said FSA leader General Salim Idriss had fled into Turkey during the takeover of the warehouses, which contained trucks, food, medical packs and communication equipment including laptops and radios….
“This is absolutely not the beginning of the U.S. washing its hands. We will remain engaged in the humanitarian effort. We will remain engaged in the diplomatic effort,” the official said, adding: “This doesn’t represent a change in policy in our support for the moderate opposition.”
He said the administration was looking for other ways to see how the support can be provided to ensure it does not fall into the hands of “extremists”….
“I … want to underline that our support to the opposition remains undiminished,” the British embassy spokesman said.
“We have been long-standing and strong supporters of General Idriss and the SMC. That remains the case. It is important that the SMC remains united in the face of attacks from the regime and from extremist groups….
Idris has fled the country, but who cares about such details?