US facilitating arms flow to Syrian rebels

A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows Free Syrian Army fighters posing for a picture as they celebrate after destroying a government troops carrier on the outskirts of Rastan, a rebel-held city in restive Homs province of central Syria, on 14 May 2012. (Photo: AFP - HO - Shaam News Network)

Published Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gulf states are sending more weapons to Syrian rebels battling President Bashar Assad's regime with coordinated assistance from the United States, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

Obama administration officials denied the claims accusing the United States of supplying or funding lethal material, which includes antitank weapons, the report said.

Instead, they claimed that the administration had expanded contacts with armed rebels to provide the Gulf nations with assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure, the Post said.

"We are increasing our non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, and we continue to coordinate our efforts with friends and allies in the region and beyond in order to have the biggest impact on what we are collectively doing," said a senior State Department official.

Material is being stockpiled in Damascus, in Idlib near the Turkish border and in Zabadani on the Lebanese border, according to the Post.

Opposition activists who two months ago said the rebels were running out of ammunition reported this week that the flow of weapons — most still bought on the black market — has significantly increased after a decision by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other autocratic Gulf states to provide monthly funding amounting to millions of dollars.

Syria's Muslim Brotherhood – based in Turkey – also said it has opened a supply channel to the rebels, using resources from wealthy individuals and money from Gulf states, primarily Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The effect of the new arms appeared evident in Monday's clash between opposition and government forces over control of the rebel-held city of Rastan, near Homs. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel forces who overran a government base had killed 23 Syrian soldiers.

The Sunni-led Gulf states, which are aiming to turn Syria into a proxy war against regional rival Iran, welcome such assistance but would like a more formal approach.

"Various people are hoping that the US will step up its efforts to undermine or confront the Syrian regime," the Gulf official said. "We want them to get rid of Assad.''

Several internal opposition groups have previously warned against Saudi and Qatari involvement in Syria, which would likely undermine the uprising's efforts for a democratic transition and instead propel the country into civil war.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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