WASHINGTON DC – Leaders of the main Free Syrian Army (FSA) expressed dismay at a decision by the United States and Britain to suspend non-lethal aid to the rebels, denying reports that its weapons warehouses had been seized by extremist Islamist groups.
"We hope our friends will rethink and wait for a few days when things will be clearer," FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad told the media.
The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to the rebels last week, following reports that radical Islamist groups had taken over weapons storage depots belonging to the FSA. Officials in Washington are concerned about the resurgence of extremist Islamic groups in Syria.
"As a result of the situation... the United States has suspended all further deliveries of non-lethal assistance into northern Syria," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said last week.
He added that the suspension includes communication equipment, body armor, intelligence assistance, and medical supplies could still be delivered to the Syrian rebels.
The FSA has denied that the Islamic groups had seized the warehouses, saying it had invited the fighters to secure the depots near the Turkish frontier after an attack by al-Qaida militants.
It was also reported last week that apart from looting the FSA weapons caches, the extremist groups had forced FSA commander General Salim Idriss to flee across the border into Turkey.
An official FSA statement, however, denied the report, saying it was aimed at weakening opposition morale in the fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
"These unfounded rumors are intended to weaken the morale of the fighters at a time they need to be focused on dealing with the Assad regime's gangs."
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a student at Oxford University, believes the mainstream political force behind the FSA is at odds with the Western vision for a future democratic Syria. He said that is why the Western decision to suspend arms is no surprise.
"Idriss' actions to welcome the Islamic Front were a mistake in the first place," al-Tamimi told Rudaw.
"The suspension of US and UK non-lethal aid to Syria comes as no surprise. The two countries have long invested themselves in Salim Idriss' Supreme Military Command (SMC) and its loose assortment of FSA-banner groups that tend to be non-ideological," he said.
But Mania al-Khatib, a Europe-based activist and member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), says that extremist groups flourish in the chaos that has prevailed in Syria.
"The extremist groups are now taking over and find every opportunity in the chaos of war, adding to the misery of Syrian people," she told Rudaw.
"The Assad regime is also an expert in forming extremist groups to discredit the revolution," she added.
Al-Khatib believes that more countries support the regime in Damascus nowadays than they do the opposition.
"When Syrian people started their revolution they didn't seek help, they only asked the international community to stop supporting Assad's regime," she said. "Many countries still support the Syrian regime with all means, (which) has led to deteriorating the situation in Syria."
Meanwhile, Rafif Jouejati, the Washington spokeswoman of the Local Coordinating Committees in Syria which is a network of activists, agrees that the Assad regime might be in cahoots with al-Qaeda groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"There is a collusion between ISIS and the Assad regime. We have seen too many instances where Assad's regime leaves ISIS bases intact and both Assad and ISIS have the same agenda to kill any spirit of freedom, democracy and dignity," Jouejati stressed.
But she believes that the move to suspend arms supplies to the Syrian opposition could be a temporary measure.
"From what I understand, the suspension of lethal aid might be a temporary move as the British government is planning to resume the aid as soon as they understand what happened and it doesn't seem to be a permanent policy" she added.
"The seem to be confusion as to whether General Idriss fled the country or simply went to a meeting in Turkey, then en route to Doha," she said.
Jouejati said that the Western countries have failed the Syrian people and that their complacency after the chemical attack outside Damascus boosted the Assad regime.