Syria’s Jarba calls for strategic ties with U.S.

Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba also said he backed the establishment of a no-fly zone to safeguard civilian lives from Syrian army airstrikes

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Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba told Al Arabiya News Channel ahead of an expected meeting with U.S. President Barak Obama that he backed forming strategic ties with Washington and the establishment of a no-fly zone to safeguard civilian lives against Syrian army airstrikes.

“We are the third way to this mad, reckless, thuggish regime … and the extremist [factions] who came to our land … There is the possibility for a strategic relationship [with Washington] so that we can be the third way,” he told Al Arabiya in an exclusive interview that will be aired in its entirety later this week.

Jarba also urged for the neutralization of the Syrian government’s air force in the conflict, which is entering its fourth year.

“The air force should be neutralized for the liberated areas to flourish and for people to live in peace,” he said.

“Explosive barrels are one of the main problems,” he said, emphasizing “if there is a political solution, we must neutralize the use of the air force.”

The Syrian government’s alleged use of explosive barrels against rebel-strongholds in the conflict has “made life a living hell for Syrians, especially those living in residential areas.”

The Syrian air force has allegedly used barrel bombs on various Syrian cities as part of a government offensive against the rebels. The use of the improvised weapon has had devastating effects on civilian populations and drawn international condemnation.

However, Jarba didn’t discuss further details on how to neutralize President Bashar al-Assad’s air force, adding “this requires long discussions; we can talk about it when we sit at the negotiation table.”

When asked whether he would prefer the establishment of a no-fly zone over arming Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft missiles, Jarba said: “A No-fly zone.”

He also said that the Syrian opposition as a political and military force is unable be fully present inside Syria, “because if our place became known, [the Assad government’s] airplanes will come and strike us. There is no opportunity for us to develop the liberated areas because of [the government’s] air power.”

Jarba, the president of the Syrian National Coalition, arrived in the United States early last week and has held talks with senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry. The Syrian opposition leader is also expected to meet with Obama.

His visit to the United States coincided with a U.S. decision to recognize the main opposition group as a diplomatic foreign mission.

In a statement, Jarba said the new status was a diplomatic blow to the legitimacy of Assad’s government.

Jarba, in his interview with Al Arabiya, also slammed what he said was the “world’s silence” on the role of Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah in the Syrian conflict that has killed 150,000 people since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.

“The talk always centers on ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] without any mention of Iran and Hezbollah’s terrorism,” he said.

The Damascus regime, backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and fighters from Iran and Iraq, has been battling against Syrian rebels seeking the ouster of Assad who has ruled Syria since 2000. Assad took power following the death of his father Hafez al-Assad, who had been in power since 1970.

Assad is running in the upcoming presidential election which will likely see his return to power. The election, which will be staged despite the ongoing civil conflict, has been described as a ‘farce’ by the opposition.

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