Cameron Urges Support for Moderate Syrian Rebels

Radical Islamists should not deter the West from backing rebels that want a democratic Syria.

British prime minister David Cameron insisted on Sunday that the civil war in Syria was at a “stalemate” and argued that the West needed “to do more to help promote those parts of the opposition that want a free, pluralistic, democratic Syria.”

Cameron admitted in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr that there was “too much extremism among some of the rebels” and said, “There is also still appalling behavior from this dreadful regime.”

It was reported this week that the United Kingdom had abandoned plans to arm rebels who are fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad, lacking the popular support for such intervention and concerned that the insurgency in Syria is increasingly radicalized.

Having previously lobbied other European Union member states to relax the conditions of an arms embargo that prohibited weapons supplies to either side in the conflict, Cameron said that Britain was “not arming the rebels” but seemed to suggest that more support could be given in other forms to secular opposition groups.

“There’s no good complaining about the rebels if you’re not going to try and help those that want a free, democratic, pluralistic Syria,” he said.

Hardline Islamist brigades have proved to be the most successful in staving off regime attempts at reconquering territory in the oil-producing east of the country. They are also strongly present in the city of Aleppo. Loyalist forces control the capital Damascus and nearby cities as well as a stretch of coastal territory in the northwest that is home to Assad’s Alawite sect.

Fearful of propping up an Islamist uprising, European powers and the United States have limited themselves to providing “nonlethal” aid, including communication and sanitation systems as well as body armor and training.

Western allies in the region, notably Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have armed Syria’s rebels, possibly in collusion with nearby Jordan and Turkey, hoping that they will topple Assad who is the only Arab ally of their nemesis Iran.