Gulf Arabs Deny Arms To Syria Rebels

Gulf Arab rulers have sent little to Syria's opposition in the way of weapons, money or fighters despite their own international calls to do so, say people close to the Saudi government, Syrian rebel commanders and Syrian exiles involved in the aid effort.

Gulf Arab rulers have sent little to Syria's opposition in the way of weapons, money or fighters despite their own international calls to do so, say people close to the Saudi government, Syrian rebel commanders and Syrian exiles involved in the aid effort.

The Gulf leaders say the Syrian rebels need to be able to better defend themselves, but they also share some of the same concerns as the West about any extremists among forces opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, these people say. The U.S. and others haven't advocated arming the rebels, in part out of fear it would create an even more bloody and prolonged conflict.

For now, commanders of the Syrian opposition, outgunned and outmanned by Mr. Assad's forces, are having to turn away the Saudi young men who are beginning to call to volunteer, one Syrian rebel officer said at a military camp of the rebel Free Syrian Army inside Turkey.

"I tell them, 'God bless you, sons, but we don't have enough weapons for ourselves. If you want to help, send money,' " the Syrian rebel officer said.

Inside Syria on Sunday, government tanks shelled districts across the city of Homs, as the International Committee of the Red Cross tried to enter the besieged Baba Amr neighborhood for a third day. Activists described a city nearly crushed by a monthlong bomb campaign.

The Red Cross was able to provide first aid and distribute blankets, food and baby milk on Sunday in Abel, a town less than two miles from Homs where families fleeing Baba Amr had gathered, Red Cross chief spokeswoman Carla Haddad Mardini said. The Syrian government hadn't yet allowed aid teams to enter Baba Amr, she said.

In Baba Amr, a resident said he believed government ground troops, deployed on Thursday, were trying to clean up the neighborhood before allowing in the international aid agency. "It doesn't need to be said: They're wiping the blood off the streets and trying to hide the piles of destruction," the activist, speaking by Skype, said from what he described was a bunker three floors underground.

Over the past week, images and accounts from Homs, the epicenter of Syria's yearlong uprising, have shocked international observers, as activists and journalists fleeing the city described indiscriminate shelling and rights groups analyzed the government's use of heavy artillery in the populated residential neighborhood of Baba Amr.

Defected troops say the military in Homs has used high-explosive mortar rounds and shells designed to penetrate concrete.

Saudi Arabia's people share many of the same tribal ties as Syria's, including Saudi King Abdullah, whose mother comes from the same Shammar tribe as eastern Syria's.

As the death toll—put by the United Nations this week at "well over" 7,500—has climbed, King Abdullah and his ministers became some of the strongest and most consistent advocates of immediate action to stop the killing.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal late last month called arming Syria's rebels "an excellent idea." Qatar and parliament members in Kuwait also have called for support for the Free Syrian Army. "It is the right of the Syrians to arm themselves in order to defend themselves," Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal said Sunday. In mosques and on YouTube and Arabic satellite television channels, Saudi clerics have intensified calls for aid to Syria's opposition as deaths mounted in Homs.

"Bashar is illegitimate...because his hands are stained with blood," E'id al Qarni, a Saudi sheikh who was influential in calling young Saudis to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan in the 1980s, told Al Arabiya television, in a Feb. 26 fatwa demanding that Syria's army mutiny.

In Syria and among Free Syrian Army fighters taking refuge at the group's camps across the Turkish border, however, no evidence has emerged of large amounts of arms arriving for Syrian rebel forces. So far, Syria's rebel fighters appear to have obtained some arms from inside Syria, or from gray arms markets in surrounding countries such as Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, according to analysts and officials.

But accounts from inside Syria consistently describe rebel fighters as armed only with light weapons. On Saturday, Free Syrian Army commander Col. Riad al-As'ad told The Wall Street Journal that rebels had received neither money nor weapons nor equipment from any government.

"There is no practical support from the international community," Mr. As'ad said. "It's been all talk."

In Washington and other Western capitals, concern that arms might inadvertently reach extremist groups, including al Qaeda, have blocked both material support and official recognition for the Free Syrian Army, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week.

Saudi Arabia's ruling family has been targeted repeatedly by al Qaeda and other political and military Islamist groups, in part for its close ties with the West.

Similar doubts about the opposition have stalled any Saudi government recognition of the Free Syrian Army, a Saudi analyst familiar with much of the government's thinking said last month.

"We have very clear concerns about the opposition and who they are," a Saudi official said.

"Short of any Arab army going in there''—which no Arab leader wanted, he said—"everybody is trying to determine the best way forward."

Without international recognition, most of the money and aid reaching inside Syria comes from Arabs of Syrian heritage now living abroad, said Moaz Sibai, a Riyadh businessman helping to gather aid for relatives and others in Homs.

"The suffering is increasing, and the waiting cannot be forever," Sibai said. "Not the wait for aid, and not the wait for arms."