05/29/2013, 00.00
SYRIA - EUROPEAN UNION

As hundreds of Europeans join anti-Assad jihad, EU split over Islamist threat

Support for Syria's warring sides threatens not only the stability of the Middle East but also that of Europe. Russia ships anti-aircraft missiles to Assad. Dutch and Belgian Foreign Ministers express concern about the presence of their nationals, including teenagers, among jihadist forces in Syria, fearful they could carry out acts of terrorism once they come home.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - The recent session of the European Parliament on the renewal of the arms ban to Syrian rebels has revealed serious divisions within the European Union. France and Britain have said that they are ready to provide military support to the rebels, but are faced with the opposition of other EU countries.

In recent months, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland and other EU countries have reported disturbing news from Syria, showing how a number of Europeans left home and work to take part in the anti-Assad jihad. British and French officials have reported much of the same.

According to EU sources, as of late April more than 500 European nationals had joined Islamist groups in Syria. Of these, at least a hundred men are from the Netherlands. In February, they were only a few dozen.

This prompted Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans and his Belgian counterpart Didier Reynders to express serious concern about this trend, hitherto underestimated by Western media and the EU itself.

"Once this youth returns, they are likely to be traumatized and brainwashed, and may pose a potential security risk in the Netherlands," Timmermans said.

In March, Dutch TV related the story of Rogier, a 26-year-old man who converted to Islam in 2011 thanks to the internet.

Before leaving for Syria, the young man recorded a video where he explained to his parents the reasons for his action, that he had answered Allah's call and had left in order to stand by the Muslims who are suppressed in Syria.

In the interview, he explained that he "could not sit and watch his sisters in Syria being raped and his brothers being beheaded," convinced that it was his duty "to defend his brothers and sisters."

In the Netherlands, dozens of families turned to the Foreign Ministry and international organisations to see how they could bring their children back.

In a case similar to Rogier's, a Belgian father (anonymous for security reasons) crossed into Syria from Turkey looking for son, contacting leaders of rebel groups in a desperate attempt to locate the young man.

A conference is scheduled for 10 June in Geneva on a diplomatic solution to the Syria War with the participation of representatives of the Syrian regime. However, the main issue on Western and Russian agendas remains military support to the conflicting parties.

In response to possible British and French support to the rebels, Russia yesterday announced it was sending new anti-aircraft missiles to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

For Bloomberg analyst Nicole Gaouette, this could threaten the fragile balance in Lebanon, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, with far-reaching consequences in Europe.

In less than a week, 23 people were killed in Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon in armed clashes between Sunnis and Shias.

Yesterday, a series of bombings killed 58 people in Baghdad. For the month of May alone, the death toll stands at 450.

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