Free Syrian Army fighters take cover behind sand bags during clashes in Aleppo, August 12, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
OTTAWA - Some experts say Canada should step up and arm Syrian rebels, but the feds are sticking with a strictly diplomatic and humanitarian role in the crisis for now.
Western powers have so far avoided sending the opposition groups military aid, focusing instead on putting diplomatic pressure on the Syrian regime and sending "non-lethal" assistance to the region.
Canada's government has also offered strong support to the Syrian National Council - one of the primary opposition groups - said University of Waterloo Mideast expert Dr. Bessma Momani.
The SNC was allowed to meet in Canada's embassy in Turkey, and the federal government has also given them support in terms of logistics, she noted.
"We have been very active in helping out the opposition," she said. "We don't see ourselves playing a prominent role, but I'm told we are very helpful to the SNC."
But Momani says arming the rebels with surface-to-air missiles would help level the playing field against the Syrian military and air force's superior firepower.
Canada is ruling out military intervention for now,
"There are currently no plans for Canadian military assistance in Syria," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement. "We must take every diplomatic measure that is available to us. Canada will continue to work with our allies to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria."
Meanwhile, on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a no-fly zone over Syria was an option worth exploring.
A no-fly zone would mean disabling Syrian air defences and sending fighter planes to shoot down any jets or helicopters Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad uses on rebels or civilians.
Libyan rebels were able to overthrew Moammar Gadhaffi last year, only after NATO and Arab states imposed a no-fly zone over the country.
Queen's University professor Houchang Hassan-Yari called a no-fly zone a "practical solution" for Western powers looking to end the violence but said "neither Canada nor others show much willingness to do this."
Both analysts say arming rebels could speed the end of the 18-month-old crisis.
On Monday, rebels claimed they'd shot down a Syrian fighter jet, suggesting they may already have at least limited access to anti-aircraft weapons.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper fended off concerns Monday about $2 million in federal funds going to Canadian Relief for Syria, a group currently without charitable status.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced the funding last week, with the money earmarked for medical supplies and health care in Syria.
"Our officials have done due diligence on all the organizations to which we've given money," Harper said during a news conference in Toronto.