Pakistan denies plans to arm Syrian rebels
Rebels have long sought anti-aircraft rockets to defend themselves against Syrian warplanes
Pakistan on Thursday strongly denied it had any plans to send weapons to Syrian rebels, following reports that Saudi Arabia was holding talks with it about arming the opposition.
A Saudi source said Sunday that Riyadh was seeking Pakistani anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets for forces fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
But Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs, denied the claim, telling reporters Pakistan has not considered such a proposal.
“The reports about arms supply to Syria are totally baseless,” Aziz said.
Rebels have long sought anti-aircraft rockets to defend themselves against Syrian warplanes, which regularly bomb rebel-held areas with barrels loaded with TNT and other ordnance.
The United States has opposed arming the rebels with such weapons, fearing they might end up in the hands of extremists.
But Syrian opposition figures say the failure of peace talks in Geneva seems to have led Washington to soften its opposition.
Pakistani foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam said at a regular briefing that Islamabad did not supply arms to “entities,” meaning rebel groups, and respected Syria’s sovereignty.
“The policy guidelines for the sale of arms that we have are in line with the adherence to the purposes and principles of the UN charter,” she said.
Pakistan recognised the right of all states to protect their security, she said, and wanted an end to the bloodshed in Syria.
She stressed that “regime change from outside by any means is something that Pakistan has persistently and very strongly opposed”.
“We also have what is known as end users’ certificate which ensures that our weapons are not resold or provided to a third country,” she said.
“Our position on Syria has been very clear and has been articulated again and again.”
The nearly three-year conflict in Syria has torn the country apart, killing more than 140,000 people including some 50,000 civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Aslam said Pakistan had taken note of the humanitarian situation in Syria and wanted to see the Syrian people getting the supplies they needed.
Russia, a key ally of Syria, on Tuesday warned Saudi Arabia against supplying the rebels with shoulder-launched rocket launchers, saying it would endanger security across the Middle East.
On Wednesday, Syria shipped out a consignment of mustard gas for destruction at sea under a disarmament deal approved by the U.N. Security Council to dispose of its chemical weapons.
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