By CASSANDRA VINOGRAD, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Islamic militants have taken control of a cache of machine guns and ammunition intended for Syria's Western-backed rebels, the Syrian opposition confirmed Friday, demanding that the weapons be returned.
Syrian National Coalition official Monzer Akbik told reporters in London that it still wasn't completely clear how a new alliance of hardline Muslim fighters came to control warehouses containing rebel machine guns and ammunition at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Syria and Turkey, but they did.
"The reality is that the Islamic Front are holding, now, the hardware," he said. "They should return it."
The apparent seizure of rebel weaponry by fighters loyal to Syria's newly created Islamic Front has dealt a serious blow to the Syrian opposition, which is struggling to maintain international support as extremists expand their hold across rebel-held territories. The Islamic Front is an umbrella group of powerful ultra-conservative Muslim fighters.
The move has rattled supporters of the Syrian National Coalition — which opposes the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad — and its military wing, the Free Syrian Army, the Western-backed rebel group fighting to topple him. On Wednesday, the U.S. and Britain both announced they were suspending deliveries of non-lethal gear to rebels in northern Syria following news of the warehouse takeover.
Akbik said Gen. Salim Idris, the Free Syrian Army commander, was in southern Turkey meeting with members of the Islamic Front to demand the return of the weapons.
There are conflicting stories over how the Islamic Front won control of the warehouses. The Islamic Front denies that it took the weapons by force, saying it was responding to a call for help from the Free Syrian Army after the group came under attack from unknown gunmen.
Akbik refused to give any details on what happened, saying the situation was "foggy," but said ammunition — mostly AK-47 bullets — and heavy machine guns were seized.
Despite the incident, Akbik said the opposition was still hoping to include Islamic fighters as part of their delegation to the Geneva peace talks in January, which aim to end the fighting that activists say has killed over 120,000 people in three years.
He said the opposition was "keen to form a delegation that will be as wide as possible" and that the Islamic Front was welcome to send a representative to the talks as part of the opposition delegation.
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