In Sea Change, Saudis Arming Syrian Opposition

Plus, opposition agrees to attend international summit

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 26, 2013 7:37 AM CST

(Newser) – A big shift in the Syrian conflict: Saudi Arabia is arming the opposition. It's a decidedly more activist approach than had previously been taken by regional and Western powers, the New York Times reports, and it signals an attempt to counter the weapons Iran is sending to Bashar al-Assad's forces. Saudi Arabia bought the weapons from Croatia, officials say, and they started arriving in December, leading to some minor tactical gains for the rebels over the winter. It's not clear whether the US played any role in the shipments. The weapons have been funneled to nationalist and secular groups, in an attempt to keep them out of the hands of terrorists.

Recent concerns about jihadist groups and their role in the opposition also sparked the weapons transfer; those groups are often better-equipped and more influential than the nationalist and secular groups, so this is an attempt to even the playing field—as well as to speed up the opposition's successes. The Syrian opposition has agreed to attend an international summit in Rome, which it had previously threatened to boycott, after US Secretary of State John Kerry and his UK counterpart guaranteed increased aid, the BBC reports. Meanwhile, lives continue to be lost: Last week, Human Rights Watch says, four missiles fired by the Syrian military into residential areas killed 141 in Aleppo, half of them children, the AP reports.

A Syrian girl, Bushra al-Hassan, 4, injured from a government airstrike, cries at Jabal al-Zaweya village of Sarjeh, in Idlib, Syria, Monday Feb. 25, 2013.   (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this picture taken Feb. 21, 2013, a Free Syrian Army fighter watches Syrian villagers pass through a checkpoint in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, Syria.   (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
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