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Saudi sends military gear to Syria rebels: diplomat
by Staff Writers
Dubai (AFP) March 17, 2012

Saudi Arabia is delivering military equipment to Syrian rebels in an effort to stop bloodshed by President Bashar al-Assad's regime, a top Arab diplomat said on Saturday.

"Saudi military equipment is on its way to Jordan to arm the Free Syrian Army," the diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"This is a Saudi initiative to stop the massacres in Syria," he added, saying that further "details will follow at a later time."

The announcement came two days after the conservative Sunni-ruled kingdom said it had shut down its embassy in Syria and withdrawn all its staff.

It also followed a brief meeting on the Syrian crisis last week between Jordan's King Abdullah II and the Saudi monarch King Abdullah in Riyadh.

There was no official reaction to the statement from the Saudi capital, but Jordan flatly rejected the report.

"Jordan categorically denies the report," government spokesman and information minister Rakan Majali told AFP.

"This is completely baseless. Jordan has not discussed this issue with any parties or brought it up at all," he said without elaborating, while adding that an official statement would be issued later on Saturday.

Amman had called for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis earlier this month, arguing that the kingdom was among the worst affected by its repercussions.

Jordan shares its northern border with Syria, through which more than 65 percent of its trade transits. According to local officials, some 80,000 Syrians are estimated to have fled to the kingdom since March 2011.

Saudi Arabia has taken a strong stance against the escalating bloodshed and, along with its five Gulf Cooperation Council partners, expelled Syrian envoys last month and withdrew their own over the "mass slaughter" of civilians.

Earlier this month, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal publicly defended the right of the Syrian opposition to arm itself.

"It is the right of the Syrians to arm themselves in order to defend themselves. Weapons used to target homes are used in wars with enemies," he said.

King Abdullah had also previously called for "critical measures" to be taken against Syria's regime, warning of an impending "humanitarian disaster."

Last week, Syrian Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud told AFP that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were backing "armed terrorist gangs" operating in the country and were therefore responsible for the resulting bloodshed.

"Some of the countries backing armed terrorist gangs, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are accomplices to the terrorism targeting the Syrian people... and bear responsibility for the bloodletting," he said.

Those charges were renewed on Syrian state television on Saturday after two huge bomb blasts killed at least 27 people and wounded almost 100 in central Damascus.

"Saudi Arabia is sending us terrorists," a resident of the devastated areas said on television.

"These are the friends... of the Istanbul council," said another, referring to the opposition Syrian National Council set up in the Turkish city last August.

The diplomat's statement on Saudi military supplies being sent to Syria came as Iraq told Iran it would not permit weapons shipments to the strife-torn country.

Baghdad informed Tehran "that Iraq will not permit the use of its airspace or its territory for the transit of any arms cargo to Syria," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

Monitors say at least 9,100 people, most of them civilians, have been killed since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.

Assad and much of his regime hail from the Shiite Muslim minority Alawite branch, while most of Syria's 23 million population is Sunni Muslim.

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Iraq backs idea of Arab peacekeepers: deputy minister
Baghdad (AFP) March 17, 2012 - Iraq's deputy foreign minister voiced support on Saturday for the idea of peacekeeping forces manned exclusively by Arab League troops but stopped short of backing a Qatari proposal to deploy one in Syria.

Labid Abbawi's remarks come ahead of an Arab summit due in Baghdad on March 29, the first meeting of the 22-nation bloc in the Iraqi capital since the late dictator Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

"We do support the idea, but of course there are a lot of details which have to be discussed," Abbawi told AFP when asked if Iraq backed an Arab League peacekeeping force.

"But the idea is supported by us."

He said he was not sure if the idea would be agreed at the upcoming summit, but said it was "a time to look at it again".

Qatar has most forcefully advocated the idea of an Arab force, to be used particularly in Syria, and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Saturday it was time to send Arab and other foreign troops to Syria.

"The time has come to apply the proposal to send Arab and international troops to Syria," Sheikh Hamad said during a meeting of top diplomats that was to be joined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later on Saturday.

Last month, Arab foreign ministers agreed to ask the UN Security Council to issue a decision on the formation of a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force to oversee the implementation of a ceasefire.

Asked how Iraq would envision the force being used, Abbawi said: "We are talking about Arab forces similar to that of the UN peacekeeping force. It will not be a force that will go to take sides in any conflict or any problem."

"It is a force where instead of having ... a UN peacekeeping force, why not Arabs try to do that, to have an independent force which implements the mandate given to it by the Arab League."

He added: "We are against foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Syria. We want the Syrian people to decide their own future, their own destiny, of their own will."

While Iraq has largely shied away from imposing punitive measures against Syria, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called for "change" and "free elections" there.

Monitors say more than 9,100 people have died in the uprising in Syria, while the United Nations estimates more than 30,000 Syrians have fled to neighbouring states and another 200,000 have been displaced.


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