At summit,nations pledge aid to Syria rebels

Arab fund of $100 m planned to pay rebel salaries

Written by New York Times | Istanbul | Published: April 2, 2012 12:56 am

STEVEN LEE MYERS

The US and dozens of other countries moved closer on Sunday to direct intervention in the fighting in Syria,with Arab nations pledging $100 million to pay opposition fighters and the Obama administration agreeing to send communication equipment to help rebels organise and evade Syria’s military,according to participants gathered here.

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 in Syria and that more forceful action was needed. With Russia and China blocking measures that could open the way for military action by the United Nations,the countries lined up against the government of President Bashar al-Assad have sought to bolster Syria’s beleaguered opposition through means that seemed to stretch the definition of humanitarian assistance.

The offer to provide salaries and communications equipment to rebel fighters known as the Free Syrian Army — with the hopes that the money might encourage government soldiers to defect,officials said — is bringing the loose Friends of Syria coalition to the edge of a proxy war against Assad’s government and its international supporters,principally Iran and Russia.

Direct assistance to the rebel fighters,even as Assad’s loyalists press on with a brutal crackdown,risked worsening a conflict that has already led to about 9,000 deaths and could plunge Syria into a protracted civil war.

“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,said here. “All of these responsibilities should be borne by the international community.”

Ghalioun did not directly address the financial assistance from the Arab countries — including Saudi Arabia,Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — but he added,“This is high noon for action.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the conference that Assad had defied Annan’s efforts to broker an end to the fighting and begin a political transition. She said that new assaults began in Idlib and Aleppo provinces even after Assad publicly accepted the plan a week ago,which called for an immediate cease-fire followed by negotiations with the opposition.

Turkey’s prime minister,Recep Tayyip Erdogan,the host of Sunday’s meeting,called on the UNSC to act in the wake of the failure of Annan’s efforts,saying Syria’s government was using the initiative to buy time.

The question of arming the rebels — as countries like Saudi Arabia and some members of Congress have called for — remain divisive because of the uncertainty of who exactly would receive them.

Molham Al Drobi,a member of the Syrian National Council,said that the Opposition had pledges of $176 million in humanitarian assistance and $100 million in salaries over three months for the fighters inside Syria. He said some money was already flowing into the fighters,including $500,000 last week through “a mechanism that I cannot disclose now.”

As the fighting in Syria drags into a second year,the international involvement on behalf of Syria’s rebels — inside and outside the country — appears to be deepening. Clinton announced an additional $12 million in humanitarian assistance for international organisations aiding the Syrians,bringing the US total so far to $25 million,according to the State Department.

The US and other nations also agreed Sunday to set up a “working group” within the nations gathered here to monitor countries that continue to arm or otherwise support Assad’s government.

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