Members of the Free Syrian Army (pictured at a rally) say more regime soldiers have defected. Photo: Reuters
Dubai: The rebel Free Syrian Army says it is benefiting from a delay in an expected US-led strike on Syria and has guaranteed President Bashar al-Assad's forces that they and their families will be unharmed if they defect.
"We are now taking advantage of this delay to make better plans and have also issued a statement calling on officers of the Syrian regular army to defect and join our ranks," Mohammed Almustafa, media coordinator for the FSA's General Salim Idriss, said.
"We have given them guarantees that we will protect them and their families from getting killed or being harmed in any way," Mr Almustafa said. "Those who carried out massacres will be subjected to a fair trial."
More than 400 people defected lately, most recently in the eastern city of Deir Ezzour, he said.
US President Barack Obama, in a surprise move, decided to seek congressional approval to strike Syria for what the administration says was an August 21 sarin gas attack by the Assad government that killed more than 1400 people. The request puts off any decision on a strike until at least September 9, when Congress returns from its summer recess. Some US lawmakers are sceptical about the justifications for the attack.
Dr Assad's government denies carrying out a chemical assault, and has urged the United Nations Security Council to block the "absurd use of force," according to state-run news agency ANA.
The delay has given rebels time to arm themselves better, Mr Almustafa said. Weapons and other military support for the rebels have markedly improved over the past two weeks, he said, declining to say which countries provided the arms and how they reached the rebels. The Turks and "some Arab countries" have been especially supportive, he said, without providing details.
Mr Obama's deferral also gives time for the international community to forge a "common position" against Syria, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said. Military strikes against Syria would threaten prospects of any international peace talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
The rebel army is confident the US and its allies will decide to strike Syria, based on its meetings and conversations with US and European counterparts, Mr Almustafa said. "We don't know exactly when it will happen," he said.
The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the push to drive Dr Assad from power began peacefully 2 1/2 years ago, then deteriorated into civil war.