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US Moves Towards Intervention in Syria

60 nations pledge to pay, support Syrian rebels

Common Dreams staff

World leaders gather to discuss the clashes in Syria (Photo: Associated Press)

The United States has pledged to provide money and communications assistance to rebels in Syria, who have been clashing with the Syrian government.

At least 60 nations, including the US, have pledged $100 million to pay opposition fighters in Syria, according to the New York Times. The Obama administration has also agreed "to send communications equipment to help rebels organize and evade Syria’s military."

This would mark the second time since Arab nations began uprisings against their governments in early 2011 that the US has taken such a direct role in an Arab conflict. The United States took an interventionist role in Libya last year -- who like Syria had a testy diplomatic relationship with the US.

The United States has not intervened on behalf of pro-democracy activists in countries where they have strong geopolitical relationships with the government, such as Yemen and Saudi Arabia. This has led critics to allege that the United States intervenes in the name of geopolitical self-interest, and not a commitment to democracy or human rights in the region. Many have expressed opposition to US intervention in Syria.

"Although the impulse to try to end the ongoing repression by the Syrian regime against its own people through foreign military intervention is understandable, it would be a very bad idea," said Stephen Zunes. "Empirical studies have repeatedly demonstrated that international military interventions in cases of severe repression actually exacerbate violence in the short term and can only reduce violence in the longer term if the intervention is impartial or neutral."

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The New York Times: At Summit, Nations Move to Increase Aid for Syrian Rebels

The United States and more than 60 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 communications equipment to help rebels organize and evade Syria’s military, according to participants gathered here.

The moves reflected a growing consensus, at least among those 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 Mr. Assad’s government and its international supporters, principally Iran and Russia.

Direct assistance to the rebel fighters, even as Mr. 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, told hundreds of world leaders and other officials gathered here. “All of these responsibilities should be borne by the international community.”

Mr. 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 Mr. Assad had defied Mr. 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 Mr. Assad publicly accepted the plan a week ago, which called for an immediate cease-fire followed by negotiations with the opposition.

“The world must judge Assad by what he does, not by what he says,” Mrs. Clinton said in a statement to officials who sat around an enormous rectangular table the size of a basketball arena. “And we cannot sit back and wait any longer.”

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. Paying salaries to fighters blurs the line between lethal and nonlethal support.

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