News Column

Syrian Rebel Groups Awaiting US Aid

March 5, 2013

By Tom A. Peter

Rebel groups battling to topple Syrian dictator Bashar Assad said Monday at a gathering here that none of the groups is aware of the way in which $60 million in aid promised recently by the Obama administration will be provided.

"I haven't heard anything about U.S. funding, not even promises," says Ahmad Azouz, a newly elected member of the Aleppo Council. "We hope that the U.S. will provide the new coalition with funding."

On Monday, Syrian rebels pushed government troops from most of the northern city of Raqqa and hauled down a bronze statue of Assad's late father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, Syrian activists said.

Rebels hold parts of several major Syrian cities in Aleppo, Homs, Deir el-Zour and suburbs of the capital, Damascus -- but they have not been able to break out, saying they need heavy weaponry to do so.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced the new $60 million in aid last week, but there were few specifics on what it would be used for and how it would be delivered, except that no weapons would be part of the package.

To provide a possible conduit for the U.S. aid, representatives of rebel groups elected a 29-person council here as the government in rebel-controlled northern province of Aleppo province. The Aleppo council will coordinate humanitarian aid and governance initiatives that are currently managed by a patchwork of civilian and military groups.

Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Monday that Assad's missile attacks on rebels in Aleppo would not be tolerated by the international community and that he had lost all claim to be Syria's legitimate leader.

Saud said Saudi Arabia could not ignore the brutality Assad is inflicting on his people. "This cannot go on," he said. "He has lost all authority."

Two years into the Syria conflict and an estimated 70,000 dead, Syrians have grown increasingly frustrated with what they see as the failure of the United States to provide the kind of help it needs to remove Assad, whom President Obama has said "must go."

The United States had already pledged $385 million in humanitarian aid in addition to the $60 million in direct aid to the rebels. Syrians say they have seen little of that money reach them on the ground. "We get very little assistance, and we don't have really a lot of money, but some people are trying to help us. We hope we will be successful to finance the civil council of Aleppo soon," said Moaz al-Khatib, president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

Nowhere else in Syria have opposition forces managed to gain control of an area to the extent that they now control Aleppo. Opposition groups there operate civilian courts and police squads, among other services.

Still, fighting continues in much of Aleppo. Syrian military airstrikes and artillery and missile attacks are a regular part of life for residents. The security concerns prompted organizers to hold the election just over the border in Gaziantep.

The new council will replace Aleppo's Transitional Revolutionary Council and will rely largely on wealthy Syrian donors and contributions from a variety of other countries to support its efforts.

Aside from military needs, the Syrian rebels say they also lack help with humanitarian needs, but few have seen it. "We've heard that America sent money and that the coalition received it. They asked the people to make local councils to help distribute the aid and they made these councils," says Qussay Said Essa, a general surgeon at a hospital run by Orient Humanitarian Relief in Reyhanli, Turkey, near the Syrian border.



Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013


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