U.S. And Other Countries To Pay Rebels In Syria
The United States and dozens of other countries are equipping and paying rebels in Syria to help them organize and evade Syria's military, according to participants gathered there. In addition, the Arab nations have pledged $100 million to pay opposition fighters.
The Obama administration has agreed to send communications equipment to Syria. Although countries like Saudi Arabia and some members of Congress have called for armament of the rebels, it would be uncertain who exactly would receive the arms. Only Russia and China have been blocking United Nations measures that would permit military action. Meanwhile, ongoing violence has led to deaths in the hundreds of thousands.
The New York Times reported the decision's link to "Friends of Syria,":
The moves reflected a growing consensus, at least among the officials who met here this weekend under the rubric “Friends of Syria,” that mediation efforts by the United Nations peace envoy, Kofi Annan, were failing to halt the violence that is heading into its second year in Syria and that more forceful action was needed.
The assistance to the rebel fighters as Mr. Assad’s loyalists press on with a brutal crackdown could worsen a conflict that has already led to at least 9,000 deaths and is increasingly showing signs of descending into a sectarian civil war. Some say that enabling the uprising to succeed is now the best bet to end the instability and carnage sooner.
“We would like to see a stronger Free Syrian Army,” Burhan Ghalioun, the leader of the Syrian National Council, a loose affiliation of exiled opposition leaders, told hundreds of world leaders and other officials gathered here. “All of these responsibilities should be borne by the international community.”
Reuters reported on the "Friends of Syria" and representatives of the Syrian opposition meeting in Istanbul this weekend:
The group made no mention of arming the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), as advocated by some Gulf Arab states, but said it would "continue to work on additional appropriate measures with a view to the protection of the Syrian people".
Hardline Gulf states are likely to interpret the phrase as a licence to fund, if not arm, the FSA, while the United States and others will see it as allowing supplies of non-lethal equipment to the loosely organised armed opposition to Assad.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her government was supplying "communications equipment that will help activists organise, evade attacks by the regime and connect to the outside world" and was "discussing with other nations how best to expand this support".
Ministers from the United States, Europe and Arab countries attended the Istanbul meeting but Security Council members China and Russia and Syria's ally Iran were prominent absentees, reflecting the divided international response to Syria's crisis.
On CNN, Syrian State TV aired some of the speeches live, calling the meeting the "Conference of the enemies of Syria.":
"It is great that the conference is taking place on April 1 because it is April Fools' Day," the Syrian news anchor said, accusing the attendees of serving Israeli interests and Erdogan of carrying out Clinton's bidding.