Russia President Vladimir Putin said the West, including the United States, should not arm Syrian rebels who allegedly eat human flesh.
AMMAN/LONDON – Russian President Vladimir Putin, arriving in Britain before an international summit set to be dominated by disagreement over the U.S. decision to send weapons to Syria's rebels, said the West must not arm fighters who eat human flesh.
In Syria, rebels fought back Sunday against forces of President Bashar al-Assad and his Lebanese Hezbollah allies near Aleppo, where Assad has announced a campaign to recapture the rebel-held north after seizing a strategic town this month.
After months of deliberations, Washington decided last week to send weapons to the rebels, declaring that Assad's forces had crossed a "red line" by using nerve gas.
The move throws the superpower's weight behind the revolt and signals a potential turning point in global involvement in a 2-year-old war that already has killed at least 93,000 people.
It also has infuriated Russia, Cold War-era ally of Syria, which has sold arms to Assad and used its veto at the U.N. Security Council to block resolutions against him.
Russia has dismissed the U.S. evidence that Assad's forces used nerve gas. The White House says President Barack Obama will try to lobby Putin to drop his support for Assad during this week's G-8 summit hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
After meeting Cameron in London, Putin said Russia wanted to create the conditions for a resolution of the conflict.
"One does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public and cameras," Putin said.
"Are these the people you want to support? Are they the ones you want to supply with weapons? Then this probably has little relation to the humanitarian values preached in Europe for hundreds of years."
The incident Putin referred to was most likely that of a rebel commander filmed last month cutting into the torso of a dead soldier and biting into a piece of one of his organs.
Both sides have been accused of atrocities in the conflict. The United States and other countries that aid the rebels say one of the reasons for doing so is to support mainstream opposition groups and reduce the influence of extremists.
DOUBTS OVER CONFERENCE
The U.S. plan to arm the rebels also places new doubt over plans for an international peace conference called by Washington and Moscow, their first joint attempt in a year to try to seek a settlement.
After meeting Putin, Cameron said the divide between Russia and the West over Syria could be bridged, although they disagreed about who was at fault.
"What I take from our conversation today is that we can overcome these differences if we recognize that we share some fundamental aims: to end the conflict, to stop Syria breaking apart, to let the Syrian people decide who governs them and to take the fight to the extremists and defeat them."
Britain has not said whether it, too, will arm the rebels, but the issue is contentious even within Cameron's Conservative-led government. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister from his Liberal Democrat coalition partners, said, "We clearly don't think it's the right thing to do now, or else we would have done it."
Under its new posture, Washington also has said it will keep warplanes and Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Jordan, an ally whose territory it can use to help arm and train rebel fighters. Washington has 4,500 troops in Jordan carrying out exercises.
Washington has not ruled out imposing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, perhaps near the Jordanian border, although it has made no decision yet to do so.
Jordanian King Abdullah rallied his own armed forces Sunday, telling military cadets, "If the world does not help as it should, and if the matter becomes a danger to our country, we are able at any moment to take the measures to protect the country and the interests of our people."
Washington hopes its backing will restore rebel momentum after Assad's forces seized the initiative by gaining the open support of Hezbollah, Lebanon's Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia, which sent thousands of seasoned fighters to aid Assad.
Just a few months ago, Western countries believed Assad's days were numbered. But with Hezbollah's support, he was able to achieve a major victory this month in Qusair, a strategically located rebel-held town on a main route from Lebanon.
Additional reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut, Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman and Guy Faulconbridge, Costas Pitas and Andrew Osborn in London; writing by Peter Graff
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