Syrian rebels: U.S. envoy holds border talks with opposition

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U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford met with a Syrian rebel chief at a border crossing with Turkey this week, a rebel commander told AFP on Friday.

“There was a visit by Robert Ford to the border crossing at Bab al-Salameh,” said Colonel Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi, who heads the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army’s fighters in Aleppo, northern Syria.

“U.S. food and medical assistance was being delivered. He was accompanying the aid shipment,” he added.

Ford was recalled from Damascus in October 2011, over concerns for his safety after he visited protesters in the central city of Hama early in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Okaidi, who along with other rebel leaders has criticized Washington’s reluctance to arm the rebels, said the supply of weapons was discussed during the 40-minute meeting.

“There were promises that in future there will be better assistance than this, and that there might be military assistance,” he said.

“The issue is being studied. (The visit) may bring positive results.”

The United States has repeatedly expressed its support for the anti-Assad uprising but it has been unwilling to provide arms, in part for fear that they may end up in the hands of extremists.

Okaidi said Ford’s visit could be a sign that “the United States has started to move in the direction of arming the Syrian rebels.

Ford appeared in a new video posted online on Friday, offering his condolences in Arabic to the Syrian people for “the massacres that the Syrian regime has carried out”.

“We understand that humanitarian assistance is insufficient. At the same time, substantive assistance is being given to the Free Syrian Army in its fight against the regime,” he said.

In the same video, he echoed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcements that a transitional government in Syria should be set up, and that Assad should step dow.

“Let me be very clear. The U.S. position has not changed. Approximately two years ago, we announced that Bashar al-Assad had lost his legitimacy, and that he had to resign,” he said.

“We still say that Bashar al-Assad must resign, he must resign. And the Syrians must create a new transitional government that excludes him and his inner circle,” he added.