'Friends of Syria' to Send Millions in Aid to Rebels
A coalition of more than 70 partners, including the United States, pledged on Sunday to send millions of dollars and communications equipment to Syria's opposition groups, The Associated Press reported.
The decision came during the conference of the “Friends of Syria” in Istanbul, during which it was debated whether, and if so, how to arm rebel fighters against the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria.
The move signals deeper involvement in the conflict amid a growing belief that diplomacy and sanctions alone cannot end the Damascus regime's brutal crackdown against protesters.
The summit meeting follows a year of failed diplomacy that seems close to running its course with a troubled peace plan led by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
AP reported that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other participants at the conference uniformly expressed concern that Annan's plan might backfire, speculating that Assad would try to manipulate it to prolong his hold on power.
Clinton said she was waiting for Annan's report to the UN Security Council on Monday on the status of his peace plan.
“There cannot be process for the sake of process,” AP quoted her as having said. “There has to be a timeline. If Assad continues as he has, to fail to end the violence, to institute a cease-fire, to withdraw his troops from the areas he has been battering ... then it's unlikely he is going to ever agree. Because it is a clear signal that he wants to wait to see if he has totally suppressed the opposition. I think he would be mistaken to believe that. My reading is that the opposition is gaining in intensity, not losing.”
Despite the acceptance, however, fresh clashes erupted between Syrian soldiers and rebels across many parts of Syria on Friday.
On Saturday, at least 25 people were killed Saturday in bombing by Assad’s forces, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The killings took place in the southern province of Dera'a, in the central city of Homs, and in the northwestern province of Idlib, near the border with Turkey.
Clinton said on Sunday the United States is providing communications equipment to help anti-government activists in Syria organize, remain in contact with the outside world and evade regime attacks.
AP quoted conference participants in Istanbul as having said that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are creating a fund to pay members of the rebel Free Syrian Army and soldiers who defect from the regime and join opposition ranks. One delegate described the fund as a "pot of gold" to undermine Assad's army.
Participants confirmed the Gulf plan on condition of anonymity because details were still being worked out, AP noted. One said the fund would involve several million dollars a month.
The report also noted that Clinton announced $12 million in additional aid for Syria's people, doubling the total U.S. assistance so far.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted by AP as having said that military options might have to be considered if Syria does not cooperate with Annan's plan and the U.N. Security Council does not unite against Assad.
“If the UN Security Council fails once again to bring about its historic responsibility, there will be no other choice than to support the Syrian people's right to self-defense,” Erdogan said. China and Russia have vetoed several Security Council resolutions calling on Assad to resign and end the violence.
On Friday, Annan demanded the Syrian government implement the ceasefire it previously agreed to immediately.
"The deadline is now," an Annan spokesman said, adding the former UN chief believed Assad needed "to make a good faith gesture."
On Thursday, the UN’s human rights chief Navi Pillay said there is enough evidence to bring human rights charges against Assad over his year-long crackdown on protesters.
“Factually there’s enough evidence pointing to the fact that many of these acts are committed by the security forces, (and) must have received the approval or the complicity at the highest level,” she told the BBC.