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Qatar will continue 'supporting Syria' regardless of US help

Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar would continue arming the Syrian opposition regardless of US support [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 27 November, 2016

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Qatar will continue to arm Syrian rebels even if the US ends its support under Donald Trump, Doha's foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani has said.

Qatar's government will continue to arm the Syrian opposition even if the US decides to back away from the conflict, the Gulf country's foreign minister has said.

"We want to have the US with us, for sure, they have been our historic ally," Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani told Reuters in an interview published on Saturday.

"But if they want to change their minds, are we going to change our position?" he asked. 

"For us, in Qatar at least, we are not going to change our position. Our position is based on principles, values and on our assessment of the situation there."

US President-elect Donald Trump had previously said he would rather focus American efforts on fighting the Islamic State group than backing the rebels.

This could mean possible cooperation with Russia, a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that has been bombing the rebels for more than a year in western Syria.

In an interview published this month, Assad said Trump would be a "natural ally" if he decides to "fight the terrorists".

Assad's government has accused Gulf states of backing what it calls terrorist groups in the country, an allegation they deny.

Washington and some Western officials also fear that anti-aircraft weapons provided to rebels to defend themselves against Syrian and Russian warplanes could be seized by jihadi groups and used against Western airliners.

For us, in Qatar at least, we are not going to change our position. Our position is based on principles, values and on our assessment of the situation there.
- Sheikh Mohammed

Meanwhile, 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 CIA that provides moderate groups with arms and training.

Sheikh Mohammed believes that Trump's views about Syria might evolve once in office when he receives intelligence reports about the "reality" on the ground.

He said that IS was a product of the civil war in Syria, which he believes may produce more hard-line groups if it does not come to an end.

"If we are not going to address the cause of all this ... without addressing the issue of al-Assad, we will have another extremist group, it will be more extreme and more brutal," he said, noting that IS had evolved from al-Qaeda.

The minister also hit out at Egypt, normally a close Gulf Arab ally, for appearing to side with Assad.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose flagging economy has received billions of dollars from Gulf states, has supported Russia's decision to bomb in support of Assad.

"For us unfortunately Egypt is supporting the regime... We hope that they come back and be with us," he said, adding that support for Assad was the same as supporting terrorism, "because he is a terrorist and he is on equal footing with Daesh [IS]".

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