U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and representatives of ten other countries are meeting in Qatar to coordinate military support to Syrian rebels vying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
The group, dubbed “Friends of Syria”, is meeing in the Qatari capital, Doha, and includes European powers and regional Sunni Muslim-dominated countries. It could provide Syrian insurgents with the anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons they say they need to defeat Assad’s military.
Reuters, quoting two Gulf sources reports that Saudi Arabia has stepped up its lead role in arming the rebels.
“In the past week there have been more arrivals of … advanced weapons. They are getting them more frequently,” the source was quoted by Reuters as saying. Another source told Reuters that the latest supplies had the potential to top the balance in the rebels’ favor even as Syrian government forces have been making significant gains on the battlefield.
The White House announced last week that it would provide direct military support to Syria’s rebels after it said Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons against the insurgents.
On Friday, the U.S. said it would base another 700 combat-ready military personnel in Syria’s neighbor, Jordan, after already saying it would leave F-16 fighters and Patriot missiles there following the conclusion of a joint-U.S.-Jordan military exercise.
NPR’s Deborah Amos, reporting from Amman, says Jordan, on the front line of the conflict in Syria, and has more than a half-million Syrian refugees.
She says that “rebels have confirmed to NPR that Jordan hosts a covert military training program overseen by western intelligence agencies.”
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin cautioned the West against arming the rebels, saying their ranks included “terrorist” elements. The U.S. has said that one of the groups fighting Assad, al-Nusra, is a terrorist organization.
Putin, speaking on a panel in St. Petersburg, Russia, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel said if the U.S. already recognized al-Nusra as a terrorist group, “how can one deliver arms to those opposition members? … Where will they end up? What role will they play?”