Qatar will continue to arm Syrian rebels even if Donald Trump ends US backing for the multinational effort, Doha’s foreign minister said in an interview, signalling its determination to pursue a policy the US President-elect may abandon.
But Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said the wealthy Gulf state would not “go solo” and supply shoulder-fired missiles to the rebels to defend themselves against Syrian and Russian warplanes.
While the rebels needed more military support, any move to supply “Manpad” anti-aircraft weapons to them would have to be decided collectively by the rebels’ backers, the minister, a member of Qatar’s royal family, told Reuters late on Saturday.
Some Western officials worry that Gulf states, dismayed at effective Russian air support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, could supply such weapons. Washington fears they could be seized by jihadi groups and used against Western airliners.
Qatar is a top backer of rebels fighting Assad, working alongside Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Western nations in a military aid programme overseen by the US Central Intelligence Agency that provides moderate groups with arms and training.
Qatar was determined to carry on, Sheikh Mohammed said “This support is going to continue, we are not going to stop it. It doesn’t mean that if Aleppo falls we will give up on the demands of the Syrian people,” he said.
He said Assad was “the fuel of Daesh” – an acronym for Islamic State – because his forces’ killing of Syrians helped the hardline group motivate young Syrian recruits. “We never see any effort for him fighting Daesh,” he said.