04/02/2012, 00.00
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Gulf states to pledge US$ 100 million to oust Assad

Money will pay fighters. Saudi Arabia wants to arm them but many fear an all-out civil war. The US will provide rebels with humanitarian aid and communications tools. Assad's supporters, China, Russia and Iran did not attend the Istanbul meeting. Opposition remains divided.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - Rich Gulf states plan to set up a US$ 100 million fund to pay rebels fighting the Assad regime. Deserters will also be paid if they jump ship, the Friends of Syria proposed at their latest meeting in Turkey. The group has also decided to recognise the Syrian National Council (SNC) as the "legitimate" representative of the Syrian people. The SNC is based outside of Syria and includes a number of groups opposed to the Assad regime. It will be tasked with managing the funds.

About 70 countries were at the meeting. Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States are the most committed to Assad's fall. Saudi Arabia and Qatar also proposed arming the rebels. However, no consensus was forthcoming on the issue because of the dangers of plunging the country into a full-scale civil war.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed to supply rebels with communication tools, as well as US$ 25 million in humanitarian aid.

Assad's main supporters, China, Russia and Iran, were not represented in Istanbul. After enforcing vetoes at the Security Council, they now back the Kofi Annan's peace plan to end the yearlong violence that killed 9,000 people so far.

Meanwhile, Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi said, "the battle to topple the state is over". Yet violence continued on Sunday, with at least 70 more killed across the country.

In addition to the US$ 100 million for its fighters inside Syria, the SNC said that it had had pledges worth US$ 176 million in humanitarian assistance.

The plan is to use the money to unify Syria's opposition, which is currently split between armed rebels and deserters as well as groups at home and abroad.

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