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You're reading: French direct aid a dubious break for Syria rebels

PARIS — France's decision to send direct aid to Syria's opposition represents a break for the rebels after months of Western hesitation over fears that costly equipment intended for Syria's opposition could get lost or fall into the wrong hands. But even the French action, rebels and activists say, amounts to so little that it's all but useless.

France, Syria’s
one-time colonial ruler, began sending the aid without intermediaries
last week to three regions of Syria where the regime of President Bashar
Assad has lost control, in the first such move by a Western power, a
diplomat said Wednesday. But it remains limited, primarily repairing
bakeries, water systems and schools. And while apparently more than the
indirect assistance extended by other Western countries, it’s still far
from the magnitude needed to make a difference, Syrian opposition
activists said.

In the province of Aleppo, which includes Syria’s
largest city, and in the southern province of Daraa, activists said even
the new French aid hadn’t helped. When something is broken, it’s locals
who must fix it or just make do, said Mohammed Saeed, an activist in
the Aleppo area.

“Instead of fixing water systems,” Saeed said, “they should go and give food to 5,000 refugees stuck on the border with Turkey.”

has pushed to secure “liberated zones” in Syria amid mounting calls for
the international community to do more to prevent bloodshed. It has
increased contact with armed rebel groups and started direct aid
deliveries last Friday to local citizens’ councils in five cities
outside the government’s control, the diplomatic source said, without
disclosing the value of the assistance. He spoke on condition of
anonymity because of the sensitivity of the French actions amid Syria’s

Britain has offered a total of $10 million in non-lethal
aid to Syria’s opposition, including medical supplies, communications
gear and generators, intended to reach Syria through a small number of
trusted intermediaries. Foreign Secretary William Hague says the
supplies are for opposition activists — not fighters. U.S. and French
officials have made similar comments about the destination of their aid.

amounts that have been delivered are even laughable,” said Ausama
Monajed, spokesman for the Syrian National Council, one of several
groups of Syrians outside their homeland trying to win over Western

Hague has acknowledged that the West is cautious,
offering equipment only to a small number of groups and in small
batches. He said it had only been possible to send equipment after
developing better ties to members of the country’s varied opposition
groups, some of whom are directing the deliveries.

The State
Department set aside $25 million to supply the political opposition with
non-lethal assistance, distributing 900 pieces of equipment through one
program called the Conflict Stabilization Office. The gear includes
cameras to document atrocities for potential future prosecutions,
encrypted radios, phones, laptops and software that can be used to
circumvent Internet controls, according to officials speaking on
condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the

The Assad regime, meanwhile, continues to get assistance from its allies in Russia and Iran.

Kremlin has insisted that the continuing Russian arms sales don’t
violate any international agreements and scoffed at Western demands to
halt the trade. Syria’s arsenal includes hundreds of Soviet-built combat
jets, attack helicopters and missiles, as well as thousands of tanks
and artillery systems. Russia also has said it has military advisers in
Syria training the Syrians to use Russian weapons, and has helped repair
and maintain Syrian weapons.

Iran also has been accused of
helping to sustain the regime. The U.S. alleged this week that Tehran is
flying weapons to the Assad regime across Iraqi airspace.

rebels have also benefited from weapons flowing to the rebels via
Turkey, Iraq and elsewhere, according to activists and diplomats. Some
of the arms, activists say, are purchased with Saudi and Qatari funds.
Other sources are murkier.

In Istanbul, however, a rebel commander
denied that the opposition was receiving arms deliveries via Turkey,
dismissing the Assad regime’s claims that foreign powers were stirring
up the uprising.

“If we were given any weapons assistance, the
Syrian regime would not be standing now,” Abdul-Qadir Saleh, the
commander of the Tawhid Brigade, the main rebel outfit in Aleppo
province, told a press conference. “The weapons we have are either
looted from Syrian army depots or came with those who defected.”

Harling, of the think tank International Crisis Group, said Syria’s
opposition, although divided, was more than capable of handling aid. He
criticized European and American diplomatic hesitancy as “a tendency to
posture, to make statements as opposed to actual policy-making.”

said words without action would have long-term consequences among
Syrians: “There’s a huge disconnect which is causing a lot of
frustration and will cause ultimately hostility on the part of Syrians
who hear a lot of empty statements but see very little happening on the

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