Exclusive: Command centre in Turkey organising weapon supply to opposition
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Martin Chulov in Beirut, Ewen MacAskill in Washington, John Densky in Idlib province
guardian.co.uk, Friday 22 June 2012
"Saudi officials are preparing to pay the salaries of the Free Syria Army as a means of encouraging mass defections from the military and increasing pressure on the Assad regime, the Guardian has learned.
The move, which has been discussed between Riyadh and senior officials in the US and Arab world, is believed to be gaining momentum as a recent flush of weapons sent to rebel forces by Saudi Arabia and Qatar starts to make an impact on battlefields in Syria.
Officials in the Saudi capital embraced the idea when it was put to them by Arab officials in May, according to sources in three Arab states, around the same time that weapons started to flow across the southern Turkish border into the hands of Free Syria Army leaders.
Turkey has also allowed the establishment of a command centre in Istanbul which is co-ordinating supply lines in consultation with FSA leaders inside Syria. The centre is believed to be staffed by up to 22 people, most of them Syrian nationals.....
The US senator Joe Lieberman, who is actively supporting the Syrian opposition, discussed the issue of FSA salaries during a recent trip to Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.....
Diplomatic sources have told the Guardian two US intelligence officers were in Syria's third city of Homs between December and early February, trying to establish command and control within rebel ranks.
Interviews with officials in three states reveal the influx of weapons – which includes kalashnikovs, rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles – started in mid-May, when Saudi Arabia and Qatar finally moved on pledges they had made in February and March to arm rebel forces.
The officials, who insisted on anonymity, said the final agreement to move weapons from storage points inside Turkey into rebel hands was hard won, with Ankara first insisting on diplomatic cover from the Arab states and the US......"