US Suspends Aid to Free Syrian Army After Islamists Steal Supplies

Wednesday, 11 Dec 2013 07:50 PM

By Cynthia Fagen

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The United States and Britain suspended nonlethal aid to Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels after a new Islamic coalition took over their warehouses, signaling a possible power grab by religious extremists who are also fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The new Islamic Front alliance took over the aid warehouses in the northern town of Atmeh near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey on Saturday, U.S. officials and the pro-democracy Supreme Military Council, a rebel umbrella group that owns the warehouses and is allied with Free Syrian Army rebels, confirmed.

"All the SMC's private and public possessions are now in control of the Islamic Front," an SMC spokesman said.

The new Islamic Front is now Syria's largest armed opposition, comprising tens of thousands of fighters battling to oust Assad in the nearly three-year-old civil war.

The Islamic Front wants to establish an Islamic state in Syria, whereas the FSA, which is allied with the SMC, wants a secular, democratic state.

A U.S. official said FSA leader Gen. 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.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based anti-Assad monitoring group, said the Islamic Front had seized anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons from the SMC arms stores in fighting on Saturday.

U.S. officials said the suspension will stay in place until they are assured the nonlethal aid goes to the SMC and doesn't fall into the hands of the hardline Islamists.

"As a result of this situation . . . the U.S. has suspended all further deliveries of nonlethal assistance into northern Syria. At the same time, it is important for people to understand that our humanitarian assistance, which is distributed through international and nongovernmental organizations, including the United Nations, isn't affected by this suspension," White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Reuters contributed to this report

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