Gulf Nations to Pay Syrian Rebel Salaries, US Offers Non-Lethal Support

Posted April 1st, 2012 at 2:45 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Participants in Sunday's “Friends of Syria” conference in Istanbul, Turkey, say several Gulf nations will provide millions of dollars to the main opposition Syrian National Council to pay the salaries of rebels trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The delegates who spoke on condition of anonymity said the move is aimed at encouraging more members of Mr. Assad's military to defect to opposition groups leading the year-long uprising.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the conference Washington is providing communications equipment to opposition activists in Syria to help them organize, remain in contact with the outside world, and evade government attacks.

Clinton said the United States also is creating a program to document atrocities committed during Mr. Assad's violent crackdown on the revolt.

She also announced a doubling of U.S. humanitarian aid for Syrians affected by the conflict to $25 million and appealed to the more than 60 nations attending the conference to tighten sanctions on the Syrian government.

Syrian rights activists said attacks by government and rebel forces in several parts of the country on Sunday killed at least 40 people, including soldiers, rebels and civilians. They said at least six civilians were killed in a government bombardment of the central city of Homs.

Secretary Clinton said Mr. Assad's acceptance of a U.N.-backed peace plan for the country earlier in the week is the latest in a “long list of broken promises” by the Syrian leader.

Speaking at the conference, Syrian National Council chief Burhan Ghalioun urged participating nations to strengthen Free Syrian Army rebels and create humanitarian aid corridors inside the country.

But, disagreements remained within the Friends of Syria coalition about whether its assistance to the Syrian opposition should be expanded from financial and non-lethal measures to the supply of weapons. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been the strongest advocates of arming the rebels, but U.S., European and other Arab governments oppose such a move, fearing it would further destabilize Syria.

In a final communique, the “Friends of Syria” called for international envoy Kofi Annan to set a timeline for “next steps” in his U.N. and Arab League-backed peace mission. They said the Assad government does not have an open-ended opportunity to implement the Annan plan and will be judged by its deeds rather than its promises. The communique made no mention of supplying weapons to the Free Syrian Army.

Annan is due to speak to the U.N. Security Council on Monday about the progress of his initiative, which calls on the Syrian government and rebels to begin a cease-fire and dialogue. Secretary Clinton said Mr. Assad would be “mistaken” to believe that he can manipulate the peace plan to buy time to crush the uprising. Speaking at an Istanbul news conference, she said the Syrian opposition is “gaining in intensity, not losing.”

Conference host Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said if the Security Council fails to take action to stop the Syrian government crackdown, the international community must support what he calls the Syrian people's “right to self-defense.”

But, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Sunday that Iraq rejects efforts to arm the Syrian opposition and topple the Assad government because such actions could create a “wider crisis in the region,” as he put it.

The Friends of Syria communique also recognized the exiled Syrian National Council as a “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people and a leading opposition “interlocuter” with the anti-Assad coalition.

Syrian state media denounced the Istanbul conference as a gathering of the “enemies of Syria.” Syrian state television said Mr. Erdogan claimed to support the interests of the Syrian people while ignoring what it called his hosting of “terrorists” responsible for attacks on pro-Assad security forces inside Syria.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began a year ago.