Syria: sectarian lines deepen

Submitted by Matthew on 29 June, 2012 - 10:43

The most recent Syria peace plan, brokered by Kofi Annan for the UN and Arab states, has failed. The UN monitoring operations were suspended in mid-June.

One consequence of its failure is that the Saudis and Qatar are beginning to send significant amounts of money and weapons to the armed Syrian opposition, the Free Syrian Army.

More sophisticated weapons are being channelled through Turkey and the fighting in northern Syria is intensifying. The Saudis hope by paying the fighters they will buy control and encourage dissidents in the army to defect.

On 21 June the New York Times reported “CIA officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with al-Qaeda.” The US is attempting to vet the groups that receive Saudi guns.

The US is also worried that shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, known as MANPADS, could find their way into the hands of Islamists fighting in Syria. Reuters reports that, “hundreds, if not thousands, of MANPADS were looted from arsenals accumulated by late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and are floating on the Middle East black market.”

Hillary Clinton said the US government was supplying communications equipment, not weapons, to the opposition. The wants Syria’s murdering leaders to go, but are frightened about what will replace them and alarmed about the activities of Islamists.

According to the Economist the regime has two big current fears. First that fighting in the capital, Damascus, is getting out of control. There are now regular battles in the city centre, and the state has responded by violent attacks on opposition strongholds in the satellite areas of Douma, Qudsaya and Harasta.

Second, that it might lose the support of Russia. Obama met Putin on 18 June and asked him to force Assad’s hand.Also Russian ships recently sent to their naval base in Tartus, on the Syrian coast, are preparing for evacuations.

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