Putin,Obama set to spar over Syria arms at G8 meet

Assad says Europe will “pay the price” if it arms rebels

Written by Reuters | Eniskillen | Published: June 18, 2013 12:51:11 am

Rebels fought to halt an advance by President Bashar Assad’s forces into northern Syria Monday while US President Barack Obama faced a showdown with Russia’s Vladimir Putin over the former’s decision to arm the insurgents.

New evidence emerged of escalating foreign support for the rebels,with a Gulf source telling Reuters that Saudi Arabia had equipped fighters for the first time with shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles,their most urgent request. Rebels said Riyadh had also sent them anti-tank missiles.

European nations backing the rebels would “pay the price” if they joined those sending weapons to Syria,President Bashar al-Assad told a German newspaper.

The Saudi weapons deal was disclosed as rebel fighters confront government troops and hundreds of militants from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia seeking to retake the northern city of Aleppo,where heavy fighting resumed on Monday.

After months of indecision,the Obama administration announced last week that it would arm the rebels because Assad’s forces had crossed a “red line” by using nerve gas. That has put Washington on the opposite side of the two-year-old civil war from its Cold War foe Moscow,which supplies weapons to Assad.

The United Nations has urged all sides to stop sending arms to a conflict that has killed at least 93,000 and shows no sign of abating. But those calls have been ignored,with regional and global powers doubling down on support for either side.

The White House said last week Obama would try to persuade Putin to drop support for Assad at a summit of the G8 group of world powers in Northern Ireland.

Putin showed no sign of being convinced. Speaking on the summit’s eve,he hammered home his point that arming fighters was reckless,zeroing in on an incident last month when a rebel commander was filmed biting a piece of an enemy’s entrails.

“One does not really need to support people who not only kill enemies,but open up their bodies,eat their intestines in front of public and cameras,” Putin said after meeting British host David Cameron.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was equally blunt,saying Putin was supporting thugs. “We are not — unless there is a big shift in position on his part — going to get a common position with him at the G8.”

Obama and Putin are due to meet about 1730 GMT.

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