Gulf Nations To Pay Syrian Rebel Salaries, US Offers Non-Lethal Support

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Delegates at an international conference supporting Syria's opposition uprising say several Gulf states have agreed to pay the salaries of rebels trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a news conference at the "Friends of Syria" conference in Istanbul April 1, 2012. Clinton warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday that no time remained for delay or excuses in implementing a UN-Arab League peace proposal. Speaking after a meeting in Istanbul of Western and Arab officials and members of the Syrian opposition, Clinton also said that the United States would welcome a decision by Iran that nuclear weapons were un-Islamic, so long as Tehran observed that principle.

Delegates at an international conference supporting Syria's opposition uprising say several Gulf states have agreed to pay the salaries of rebels trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Participants in Sunday's "Friends of Syria" conference in the Turkish city of Istanbul said the small group of Gulf nations will provide millions of dollars to the main opposition Syrian National Council to pay the rebel salaries. The delegates who spoke on condition of anonymity said the move is aimed at encouraging more members of Assad's military to defect to opposition groups leading the year-long uprising.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the conference that Washington was providing communications equipment to opposition activists in Syria to help them organize, remain in contact with the outside world and evade government attacks.

Clinton said the United States also is creating a program to document atrocities committed during Assad' violent crackdown on the revolt. She said the program will enable Syrians to identify perpetrators of abuses and safeguard evidence for future investigations and prosecutions.

The top U.S. diplomat also announced a doubling of U.S. humanitarian aid for Syrians affected by the conflict to $25 million and appealed to the more than 60 nations attending the conference to tighten sanctions on the Syrian government. She warned Assad to "stop killing your fellow citizens or ... face serious consequences."

Syrian rights activists said attacks by government and rebel forces in several parts of the country on Sunday killed at least 16 people, including soldiers, rebels and civilians.

Secretary Clinton said Assad's acceptance of a U.N.-backed peace plan for the country earlier in the week is the latest in a "long list of broken promises" by the Syrian leader.

Speaking at the conference, Syrian National Council chief Burhan Ghalioun urged participating nations to strengthen the Free Syrian Army and create humanitarian aid corridors inside the country.

But, disagreements remained within the Friends of Syria coalition about whether its assistance to the Syrian opposition should be expanded from financial and non-lethal measures to the provision of weapons. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the strongest advocates of arming the Free Syrian Army rebels, but U.S., European and other Arab governments oppose such a move, fearing it would further destabilize Syria.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the conference host, said if the U.N. Security Council fails to take action to stop the Syrian government crackdown, the international community must support what he calls the Syrian people's "right to self-defense." Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara also recognizes the SNC as the "legitimate representative" of all Syrians. But, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Sunday his government rejects efforts to arm the Syrian opposition and topple the Assad government because they could create a "wider crisis in the region."

Syrian state media denounced the Istanbul conference as a gathering of the "enemies of Syria." Syrian state television said Erdogan claimed to support the interests of the Syrian people while ignoring what it called his hosting of "terrorists" responsible for attacks on pro-Assad security forces inside Syria.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began a year ago.