Last updated: 23 April, 2014

Syrian opposition asks for more Saudi aid

The head of Syria’s main opposition group has asked Saudi Arabia to increase its support for the rebel Free Syrian Army, his advisor said Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia is one of the main backers of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war increasingly seen as a proxy battle between it and regional rival Iran, a close ally of the regime.

Ahmed Jarba, head of the opposition National Coalition, met with Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Tuesday.

“The talks focused on continuing the Saudi aid and on the need to strengthen the capacities of the Free Syrian Army (FSA),” Jarba’s advisor Monser Akbik told AFP.

More aid is needed “to face the increasing number of mercenaries and militias belonging to (Lebanese movement) Hezbollah and Iraqis” fighting alongside the Syrian regime, he said.

He also cited the “intensifying military and economic aid Russia and Iran” are providing to Assad.

The FSA is also “battling extremists from the (jihadist) Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who serve the regime’s interests,” said Akbik.

Jarba told Prince Salman during their meeting that the government’s announcement of a June 3 presidential election, widely expected to return Assad to office, has “closed the door to any political solution,” according to a statement by the Coalition.

Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations against Assad erupted in March 2011 and later escalated into an armed uprising in the face of a deadly crackdown.

The June vote will be the first presidential election organised by the regime after constitutional amendments did away with the previous referendum system.

Election rules require candidates to have lived in Syria for the last decade, effectively preventing key opposition figures in exile from standing.

The Syrian opposition has slammed the planned election as a “farce,” while the United Nations and the Arab League have said it poses a major obstacle to efforts for a negotiated peace.

The conflict has killed more than 150,000 people and nearly half of Syria’s population has been displaced.