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U.S. to provide intel to Syrian rebels

Syrian rebels take position near Qusayr, 15 kms (nine miles) from the flashpoint city of Homs, on May 10, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/STR)

American sources say that the U.S. administration has decided to boost the level of aid to Syrian rebels from moral support to information that can contribute to efforts on the ground.

They will begin providing the Syrian opposition with information on strategic positions of the Syrian army, as well as information on their equipment, movements and strategy, all of which is to be gathered by research centers in Washington.

The main question is: How can a fragmented and divided opposition benefit from this information?

U.S. military analysts say that this weakness is actually a great strength: It is impossible to determine the armed opposition’s numbers, positions or movements, or to take out the leadership because there are so many leaders. The leaders also act without coordination, which complicates strategy for the Syrian army and weakens its morale.

The Syrian army has responded to attacks by armed opposition groups by committing massacres of civilians, accelerating a spiral of violence that has been condemned internationally and has put Syrian allies Russia and China in a difficult position. The two countries have informed the regime that they have exhausted their efforts to rescue it.

Meanwhile, the West continues to depend on military operations by the armed opposition to weaken the Syrian army and push its soldiers to defect, which could change the equation on the ground. For now, military intervention or arming the rebels is not on the table, except for Arab countries such as Qatar which are supporting the Free Syrian Army with weapons.

The U.S. is upset by the Syrian regime’s attempts to export the crisis to Lebanon, especially as the West has a stake in maintaining stability here. In a phone call with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed the importance of controlling the border which the Syrian authorities are using to stir up problems, according to the sources.

A high-ranking March 14 official criticized the Lebanese government for not taking the necessary steps to prevent Syrian encroachment on Lebanese territory, or to at least summon Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali to question him about near-daily border violations.

“Why doesn’t Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour dare to summon Ambassador Ali? He has summoned more than once other ambassadors to question them but not for interfering in Lebanese affairs like the Syrian and Iranian ambassadors do,” the official said.

He called for U.N. peacekeeping forces to be used along the border, especially hotspots, should the Lebanese government be unable to protect the area, adding that a number of countries, including Germany, have expressed willingness to prevent Syrian violations and to control the arms smuggling which Syria is using as a pretext to deploy to border areas.

Syria has long rejected Lebanon’s efforts to demarcate and control the borders, as it has an interest in keeping them open, said the official, recalling how the regime ended the work of the Lebanese-Syrian committee that was formed for this purpose.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 19, 2012, on page 3.

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