Gulf countries will provide millions of dollars a month to the main Syrian opposition group to pay salaries for fighters battling government forces, according to a participant at a conference on Syria in Istanbul.
Funding for the Syrian National Council’s efforts to pay fighters and army defectors would come from three or four Gulf countries, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record because the decision hasn’t been announced yet. Abdalsalam Albitar, an SNC member, said Saudi Arabia and Qatar have pledged to help fund payments to anti-regime fighters. Albitar, speaking in an interview through an interpreter, said the amount pledged hasn’t been settled yet.
Separately, the U.S. will supply opposition forces with communications gear and will increase funding for humanitarian aid to Syria, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. U.S. humanitarian aid contributions will total $25 million.
The moves came after Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League joint envoy to Syria, received promises from Assad to end a crackdown that has killed more than 9,000 people. Since the Syrian commitment on March 27, more than 200 people have been killed.
“We are going to be supporting the SNC with direct assistance in areas such as communications, others are going to be supporting fighters associated with the SNC,” Clinton said. “So countries are making their own decisions.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the “Friends of Syria” meeting in Istanbul, which involved 83 countries, that “if the Security Council shirks from its historic responsibility again, the international community will have no option other than supporting the Syrian people’s legitimate right to defend itself.”
Russia and China, which didn’t participate in the summit, warned against intervention in the country and have blocked two UN Security Council measures to end the crisis.
Clinton told the meeting that the U.S. will create an umbrella group to tighten sanctions, increase funding for humanitarian aid, supply opposition forces with communications gear and create a group to monitor Syrian “atrocities.” With those measures in place, the U.S. “is confident that the people of Syria will take control of their own destiny,” she said.
Financing from the international community won’t be used to provide weapons for the rebel Free Syrian Army, SNC leader Burhan Ghalioun said. Money from Saudi Arabia and Qatar that may be used to pay people who desert Assad’s forces would also be channelled through the SNC, he said.
“The international community that gathered as Friends of Syria support the people’s right to defend themselves,” Ghalioun told reporters at the conclusion of the summit. “Every country will interpret this in their own way and position their support accordingly.”
The SNC called on its allies to send “direct assistance or provide the means for people to defend themselves,” in a statement, adding that the “provision of arms” is not their preferred option.
“We know it carries high risks of escalation into civil war but we cannot stand back and watch our people being massacred,” the SNC said. “We believe this decision rests on the shoulders of the international community.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, told the meeting that his country supports arming the Syrian rebels. He didn’t comment on whether his country is actively doing so.
“They are fighting because they don’t see any way out,” Prince Saud said. “Do we let the killing go on, or do we look for ways to help them?”
Erdogan told today’s gathering that Assad is continuing to “spew death” after agreeing to the peace plan.
The group’s previous gathering in Tunisia in February saw divisions over arming the rebels.
In a closing statement, the “Friends of Syria” called on Annan to set a timeline for Syria to implement the UN-backed peace plan.
“Any proposition that doesn’t have a monitoring mechanism and establish a timeline for political transition will encourage the Syrian regime to apply more violence,” Erdogan said.
Annan will brief the Security Council tomorrow about the six-point UN-Arab League plan.
Clinton and other leaders have repeatedly urged the SNC to create greater unity among the various opposition groups. At least five factions announced they would put off joining the group until the leading opposition alliance alters its executive committee.
In an effort to forge consensus, the SNC adopted a charter that pledges a democratic republic based on the rule of law and that a caretaker government will immediately draft a new constitution.
The SNC seeks recognition as the sole representative of the nation, support for the rebel Free Syrian Army and safety corridors within the country, Ghalioun said. “Now is the time to act.”
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