Saudi Arabia and Qatar offer assistance to Syrian opposition

By Robert Asketill

Children chant slogans and wave Syrian independence flags during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Khalidieh, near Homs January 26, 2012.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have agreed to fund the Syrian opposition, which is struggling to afford weapons in its fight against President Assad. This week, Syrian Opposition figures held a secret meeting with Saudi and Qatari officials after an Arab League meeting in Cairo where the Gulf countries decided to pull their observers from a monitoring mission that has been widely criticized for being toothless. “The Saudis are offering their support in any way,” according to Syrian dissidents sources. Until now, the so called Free Syrian Army has largely been funded by individual donors, many of them in the Syrian diaspora, which has enabled small arms to be bought on the black market in Lebanon.

A dissident source said that after the meeting, the situation “should get better”. He said the main problem was smuggling the weapons into Syria. The opposition is calling for the international community to impose a no-fly zone similar to that put in place by Nato in Libya last March, and for Turkey and Jordan to set up buffer zones on Syria’s northern and southern borders.

He said he had seen Turkish plans for a buffer zone, which he noted would allow arms to be taken across the border to bolster the resistance. Its ranks are swelling thanks to army desertions, but it is still poorly equipped. The dissident said that Turkish plans had also been drawn up for bombing raids on Syrian military airbases and weapons dumps if the situation escalated beyond securing buffer zones and made it necessary to protect civilians or refugees from Syrian forces.

He said that the regime was playing a waiting game, marking time until the Free Syrian Army ran out of ammunition. Nevertheless, he said that in cities such as Homs and Deraa, the army was unable to enter some areas, instead surrounding them and shelling them. Qatar played an important role in funneling weapons and advisers to Libyan rebels during the revolution to overthrow Colonel Muammar Gaddafi last year. It is known that the Qatar involvement came out of Western power pressure and perhaps the Arab League should have a re-look at itself for the case of Libya and maybe the creation of a new tyranny.

The Arab League is likely to improve little on its record of collective action until members agree to sacrifice some sovereignty (i.e., installing an enforcement mechanism). And until democracy is the mainstay of the Arab world, the League will continue to struggle with issues of legitimacy. Founded in March 1945, the League of Arab States (or Arab League) is a loose confederation of twenty-two Arab nations, including Palestine, whose broad mission is to improve coordination among its members on matters of common interest while preserving the sovereignty of its individual states. The League was chartered in response to concerns about postwar colonial divisions of territory as well as strong opposition to the emergence of a Jewish state in Palestine. But it has long been criticized for ineffectiveness, disunity and poor governance.

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