France gives non-lethal military aid to Syrian opposition: PM


France is providing the Syrian opposition with “non-lethal” military aid, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Wednesday.

Speaking on BFMTV-RMC radio, Ayrault said France had responded positively to a request for help from the rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“On the military level, what we have done is we have responded to a request by the Syrian National Council and the Syrian resistance to provide a certain number of non-lethal elements... means of communication and protection,” Ayrault said.

The premier reiterated that there was no question of France becoming directly involved in military action in Syria without U.N. backing, citing the example of former U.S. president George W. Bush’s 2003 Iraq invasion.

“We have the example of Iraq where George Bush alone decided to go to war,” Ayrault said. “We were opposed and we were proved right. It ended in chaos.”

Ayrault also reiterated France’s position that Assad must step down, a day after Syria’s deputy prime minister indicated that the regime was open to discussing the leader’s departure.

Russia on Syria

Syrian regime ally, Russia, meanwhile, believes that Syria has no intention of using its chemical weapons and is able to safeguard them, reported the Russian newspaper Kommersant on Wednesday, citing an unidentified Foreign Ministry official.

The report seemed to reassure the West that the Syrian President Assad will not use chemical weapons against rebels after U.S. President Barack Obama threatened “enormous consequences” if Damascus even moved them in a menacing way.

A “confidential dialogue” with the Syrian government on the security of the arsenal has convinced Russia that “the Syrian authorities do not intend to use these weapons and are capable of keeping them under control themselves,” Kommersant reported.

The Russian Foreign Ministry declined immediate comment on the report, which cited the official as saying Russia considered it “entirely probable” the United States would take military action if it saw a threat from chemical arms.

Violence continues

Clashes between the Syrian regime forces and the Free Syrian Army continued in Damascus.

The Syrian army deployed tanks on a ring road surrounding Damascus on Wednesday and shelled southern neighborhoods where rebels operate, in the heaviest bombardment on the capital since the army reasserted control last month, residents said.

At least eight people were killed in the shelling, which was accompanied by an aerial bombardment, and in ensuing raids on the Kfar Souseh, Daraya, Qadam and Nahr Aisheh neighborhoods, they said.

“The whole of Damascus is shaking with the sound of shelling,” a woman in Kfar Souseh neighborhood said. She added that the army’s artillery was also firing on the capital, from Qasioun and Saraya mountains, overlooking Damascus.

Maaz al-Shami, a member of the Damascus Media Office, a group of young opposition activists monitoring the crackdown in the capital, said rebels who had left the city during a fierce army campaign last month had started to return.

“They went back to their homes, or disappeared in the green belt surrounding Damascus,” Shami said.

“They are back now, and the regime is responding with daily shelling and helicopter bombardment. A war atmosphere in Damascus is setting in,” he added.