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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

US secretly backs rebels to fight al-Qaeda in Syria -- By Ruth Sherlock, The Telegraph.co.uk

A Free Syrian Army fighter fires an anti-tank missile

Sources tell Telegraph that America is backing 'friendly' rebels with millions in cash and non lethal aid to take on extremists in Syria


The United States and Gulf countries have been secretly backing efforts by opposition rebels to destroy al-Qaeda's most extreme wing in Syria, diplomats and rebels involved in the plan have told The Telegraph.
As Western leaders publicly push the Syrian regime and the opposition to the Geneva II peace conference that begins Wednesday Washington has also been quietly supporting moves by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to give weapons and cash to rebel groups to fight al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) in Syria.
One source said the US was itself handing out millions of dollars to rebel groups best equipped to take on the extremists while another confirmed America was providing non-lethal aid.
The development marks a new phase in the conflict, with international backers working directly with rebel commanders to target al-Qaeda cells, who are seen as a major threat by Western intelligence agencies.
"Everyone is offering us funding to fight them," said one commander in a rebel group affiliated to the Western-backed Supreme Military Council. "We used to have no weapons with which to fight the regime, but now the stocks are full."

I n the past year ISIS has "hijacked" the Syrian revolt. Made up partly of foreign jihadists, it has sought to impose a medieval style Islamic caliphate run under a strict interpretation of Sharia law in rebel-held areas. They assassinated rival rebel commanders who they feared might be conspiring against them, or whose power they perceived as a threat.

The final affront, in rebel eyes, came in December when ISIS tortured and killed Abu Rayyan, a popular doctor and commander in a rebel brigade.

The subsequent battle against ISIS, which began a fortnight ago and has already claimed more than 1000 lives, is being touted by local commanders as a spontaneous reaction to the spate of assassinations of comrades.

However, the Telegraph can reveal that in late December, a delegation including US and Saudi officials met in Turkey with senior rebel leaders.

According to two sources – one whose brother was at the meeting: "They talked about the fighting with ISIS, and the Americans encouraged the commanders to attack."
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