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Syrian rebels will use financial support sent by Gulf countries to prevent President Bashar al- Assad’s government from crushing the uprising by armed force, according to an opposition leader.
“Without this aid, the regime will crush this revolution once and for all,” Motee al-Bateen, a member of the Syrian National Council, said in a telephone interview from Istanbul today. “This aid is essential to keep the rebels and their fight against the regime going.”
Persian Gulf nations agreed at a weekend meeting in Istanbul to provide funds allowing the Syrian opposition to pay cash to fighters battling government forces. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have promised to help, though the amount hasn’t been settled yet, said Abdalsalam Albitar, another member of the council.
The decision came during the second “Friends of Syria” meeting where the 83 nations represented in Istanbul, including the U.S., Arab states and the European Union, recognized the SNC as the leading negotiator for the Syrian people. Later today, the United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, will address the UN Security Council to update the 15-member body on developments since Syria accepted his peace plan six days ago.
“Payments and salaries is positive in a sense, but it’s by no means enough, as this development by itself will not dramatically change the situation,” Anthony Skinner, Middle East director for Bath, U.K.-based Maplecroft, a global risk adviser, said in a telephone interview today. Syrian fighters need heavy artillery, a logistics organization, improved command and control and additional training, he said.
Gulf countries plan to give millions of dollars a month to the main Syrian opposition group, according to a participant at yesterday’s conference who was not authorized to speak to journalists.
Opposition groups estimate that more than 200 people have been killed since Syria accepted the peace plan and the Friends group called on Annan to issue a cut-off date for renewed UN action “if the killing continues.” The UN said on March 27 that more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising started a year ago.
A further 17 Syrians were killed today in various parts of the country as clashes between rebels and government troops continued, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview. There are “heavy clashes” in the central city of Homs, which is being targeted by artillery fire, he said. The government said last month that it had recaptured the city.
Al-Bateen said some of the Gulf aid would “go to the free army that is currently defending civilians and is relying on internally supplied ammunition.” He said the pledge of financial support is a signal that “tougher measures will be taken” if Syria fails to meet a deadline for implementing Annan’s initiative.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. will also supply opposition forces with communications gear and will increase funding for humanitarian aid to Syria.
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