Syrian Opposition Gets Donations From Allies
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan is due to brief the Security Council today on his efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria. Opposition activists and fighters, meanwhile, can expect a new influx of cash and equipment. In Turkey yesterday, the U.S. and dozens of other countries gathered and pledged more aid for opposition fighters who have been heavily outgunned by the Syrian army. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The Annan peace proposal - a cease-fire and withdrawal of troops followed by the release of prisoners and talks on a political transition - is the only plan to win acceptance from Damascus. But none of the steps has been carried out to date, and those gathered at the Friends of Syria meeting here doubted President Bashar al-Assad would silence his military's tanks and guns anytime soon.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she didn't want to pre-judge Annan's assessment, but there has to be a deadline or the Syrian regime could string out the diplomatic process while continuing the assaults that have killed more than 9,000 people so far.
SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: If Assad continues as he has to fail to end the violence, to institute a cease-fire, to withdraw his troops from the areas that he has been battering, then it's unlikely he is going to ever agree.
KENYON: There is no agreement on arming the rebel Free Syrian Army, or creating safe corridors within Syria. But the international coalition has agreed to send something opposition fighters need just as desperately - money. A multi-million dollar fund to pay the fighters will come from Gulf Arab states, who are among the strongest advocates for sending in weapons.
The money will go through the opposition Syrian National Council. SNC head Burhan Ghalioun told the Istanbul gathering that with thousands of dead and hundreds of thousands displaced, it's time for the international community to do more than condemn.
BURHAN GHALIOUN: (Through Translator) Yes, it's imperative that we have security corridors. Yes, we need a more robust Free Syrian Army to protect the people. It's the time to move from words to actions.
KENYON: Clinton added that the U.S. is also moving beyond humanitarian aid, sending satellite communications gear that will help the opposition evade attacks from the regime and connect with the outside world.
Analysts say that to some extent, the influx of cash to the Free Syrian Army will contribute to their arsenal. Rebel officers in southern turkey have said their main source of weapons continues to be Syria itself, although prices for guns and ammunition on the black market have been rising sharply.
Several of the diplomats who spoke yesterday said they were moved by the stories of suffering and courage they heard from Syrians from the hardest-hit neighborhoods. At a private meeting between Clinton and SNC members, Medea Dagastani, a young woman who recently escaped from Homs, had a message from that battered city, and when journalists briefly came into the room, she delivered it.
MEDEA DAGASTANI: (Through Translator) People are asking, are we alone in this fight? We lost 13 people trying to get foreign journalists safely out of Baba Amr. Is the Syrian government that important, more important than the blood of our people being shed every day?
KENYON: Clinton responded that until recently, divisions and disorganization among the opposition made it hard to know how to help, but that assistance is now being ramped up.
But the international community has its own divisions, with Russia and China still opposed to any strong resolution at the Security Council. If Kofi Annan's peace efforts fail, analysts say, supplies to the opposition will increase, as will the pressure to directly arm rebel fighters.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.
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