US, Britain suspend aid to north Syria after Islamists seize weapons store

The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to northern Syria after Islamist fighters seized Western-backed rebel weapons warehouses, highlighting fears that supplies could end up in the wrong hands.

Istanbul: The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to northern Syria after Islamist fighters seized Western-backed rebel weapons warehouses, highlighting fears that supplies could end up in the wrong hands.

The rebel Free Syrian Army fighting President Bashar al-Assad said the US and British moves were rushed and mistaken. "We hope our friends will rethink and wait for a few days when things will be clearer," FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad said.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States was concerned about reports that Islamic Front forces had seized the buildings belonging to the Syrian Military Council, which is nominally in charge of the FSA.

"As a result of the situation ... the United States has suspended all further deliveries of non-lethal assistance into northern Syria," Earnest said, adding that humanitarian aid was not affected by the move.

The suspension underlines a crisis for the FSA leadership, which needs international backing to reinforce its credibility and to stop its fighters joining al Qaeda-backed Islamist militants who now dominate the war with Assad.

Fighters from the Islamic Front, which groups six major rebel brigades and which said last week it had quit the FSA, seized the headquarters of the Syrian Military Council and weapons warehouses at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on Syria`s northwestern border with Turkey.

A US official said FSA leader General Salim Idriss had fled into Turkey during the takeover of the warehouses, which contained trucks, food, medical packs and communication equipment including laptops and radios.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based anti-Assad monitoring group, said the Islamic Front had seized anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons from the SMC arms stores in fighting on Saturday.

The Islamic Front`s battlefield success in capturing the stores could undermine SMC assurances to the United States that no supplies sent to their fighters would fall into the hands of Islamist brigades.

A US embassy spokesman in Ankara said the situation was being investigated "to inventory the status of US equipment and supplies provided to the SMC". Deliveries into southern Syria, through Jordan, would not be affected, he said.

Assad`s army, backed by Lebanon`s Hezbollah militant group and Iraqi Shi`ite fighters, has made steady gains around Damascus and to the north of the capital, while rebel territory in the north has seen increasing cases of inter-rebel conflict.

Many activists who helped to organize protests against Assad have now fled abroad from rebel-held territory, fearing not Assad`s security forces but hard-line Islamists they say are equally intolerant of dissent.

Prominent human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh was kidnapped in the rebel town of Douma, activists said on Tuesday. They said it was not clear who had seized the 36-year-old activist, who has documented human rights violations in Syria.

The family of two Spanish journalists said on Tuesday they have been held since September by fighters linked to al Qaeda.

Fifty-five journalists have been killed and 30 are still missing in Syria, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, making the country the most dangerous place in the world for media workers.

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