Opposition Says Syrian Rebel Fighters To Get Salaries

Rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria will be paid salaries, the opposition Syrian National Council has announced.

In this picture taken on Tuesday March 20, 2012, a destroyed Syrian army tank which was attacked during clashes between the Syrian government forces and the Syrian rebels, in Rastan area in Homs province, central Syria. Syrian troops shelled and raided opposition areas and clashed with rebel fighters around the country Thursday despite U.N. efforts to stop the bloodshed so aid could reach suffering civilians. Activists cited the fresh violence in dismissing a U.N. Security Council statement calling for a cease-fire to allow for dialogue between all sides on a political solution. The government of President Bashar Assad also played down the statement, saying Damascus is under no threats or ultimatums.

Rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria will be paid salaries, the opposition Syrian National Council has announced.

Money will also be given to soldiers who defect from the government's army, the SNC added, after a "Friends of the Syrian people" summit in Turkey.

Conference delegates said wealthy Gulf Arab states would supply millions of dollars a month for the SNC fund.

The meeting recognised the SNC as the "legitimate representative" of Syrians.

Damascus dubbed the gathering of some 70 Western and Arab foreign ministers in Istanbul as the "enemies of Syria", and key players remained absent, including Russia, China and Iran.

At a news conference, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned Syria that Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan - which Damascus has agreed to in principle - was "not open-ended".

His comments were echoed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said there was "no more time for excuses and delays" by the Assad government. "This is a moment of truth," she said.

Compromise

"The SNC will take charge of the payment of fixed salaries of all officers, soldiers, and others who are members of the Free Syrian Army," SNC President Burhan Ghalioun told the conference.

The BBC's Jonathan Head, in Istanbul, says the decision to pay rebel fighters is a significant step by the SNC in recognising the central role the armed insurgency is now playing in their campaign to oust President Assad.

In this picture taken on Tuesday March 20, 2012, Syrian rebels stand next to a destroyed building that was damaged by the shelling of the Syrian government forces, at Rastan town in Homs province, central Syria. Syrian troops shelled and raided opposition areas and clashed with rebel fighters around the country Thursday despite U.N. efforts to stop the bloodshed so aid could reach suffering civilians. Activists cited the fresh violence in dismissing a U.N. Security Council statement calling for a cease-fire to allow for dialogue between all sides on a political solution. The government of President Bashar Assad also played down the statement, saying Damascus is under no threats or ultimatums.

An SNC leader told the BBC that she hoped more substantial funding would help bind the disparate units of the Free Syrian Army into a more coherent fighting force, and encourage other soldiers to defect from the government side.

Some countries at the conference - notably Saudi Arabia - have been openly calling for insurgents in Syria to be given weapons. But others - including the US and Turkey - oppose the move, fearing it could fuel an all-out civil war.

The decision to increase non-lethal aid to the rebels by paying salaries to the fighters is a compromise, our correspondent says.

Not all opposition groups will be happy at the summit's decision to channel the funds through the SNC - as well as recognising it as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, he adds.

There are many activists who believe the SNC's leadership has been too ineffective, and should be replaced, he points out.

The united front displayed by the gathering was undermined by the pointed absence of Russia and China, which have repeatedly balked at any international resolutions that would require President Assad to stand down.

Iraq attended, having earlier suggested it might not. However, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made it clear beforehand that he opposed arming the opposition and believed the Syrian government would survive.

The Syrian government says it is close to ending the uprising.

Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi told Syrian TV "the battle to topple the state is over".

Violence continued on Sunday, with more than 10 people reported killed, a day after more than 60 people died across the country.

In the latest violence, activists reported attacks by security forces in areas near the Iraqi border to the east, and the Jordanian frontier to the south.

The UN believes at least 9,000 people have died in the year-long revolt against Mr Assad's rule.