Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

December 19, 2012

AP Interview: Syria rebels fear chemical weapons

(Continued)

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that the Obama administration holds the regime in Damascus responsible for securing the chemical weapons. She said that "any effort to abrogate that responsibility, any effort to shift that on to others is just (adding) further to the kind of garbage that we've seen from the regime."

Idris, a 55-year-old German-trained electronics professor, was chosen earlier this month as chief of staff by several hundred commanders of rebel units meeting in Turkey.

With the election of Idris and a 30-member military command center, Syria's opposition hopes to transform largely autonomous groups of fighters into a unified force. The reorganization came after Syria's political opposition won international recognition this month as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

The West has refused to supply Syria's opposition with weapons for fear they could fall into the hands of Islamic militants among the rebels, such as the al-Qaida-inspired Jabhat al-Nusra, which the U.S. designated a terrorist group last week.

Idris said al-Nusra chose not to be part of the rebel command.

He estimated that about a fifth of al-Nusra's fighters are foreigners, but said he believes they will leave Syria once the regime has been toppled. He said the Syrians in the group, which is believed to number several hundred fighters in all, could be brought back to a more mainstream Islam after the war.

"They are not terrorists," he said of al-Nusra.

Speaking in a hotel lobby in the southern Turkish town of Antakya near the Syrian border, Idris said the new military command represents the vast majority of these fighters, and that he has begun taking command inside Syria in recent days. The ex-general said he has set up five regional operations centers, staffing each with about 15 defected army officers.

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