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September 21, 2017

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Arab allies limit Syrian rebel aid over US fears

WASHINGTON--Discouraged by lack of U.S. support, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have stopped short of arming Syrian rebels with the heavier weapons that could turn the tide of the war, The New York Times said Saturday.

Without the heavy weaponry, the rebels are only able to maintain a stalemate with President Bashar al-Assad's better-armed security forces, possibly prolonging the brutal war that began nearly 19 months ago and has already killed more than 31,000 people.

Saudi and Qatari officials told the Times that they hoped to convince the United States, which worries that shoulder-fired missiles and other heavy weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists, that these concerns could be addressed.

"We are looking at ways to put in place practices to prevent this type of weapon from falling into the wrong hands," an Arab official said.

Qatar's State Minister for Foreign Affairs Khaled al-Attiyah said that "you can give the rebels AKs, but you can't stop the Syrian regime's military with AKs."

He expressed support for providing heavier weapons to the rebels, but added: "First we need the backing of the United States, and preferably the U.N."

Arab ministers are weighing calls for an Arab peacekeeping force in Syria, but the United Nations Security Council is deadlocked over the conflict. Russia, Assad's main ally, and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions that could have led to sanctions against Damascus.

The newspaper noted that both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been providing money and small arms to the rebels for months.

President Barack Obama's administration, unwilling to increase its support for the rebels in an election year, has mostly provided logistical support.

Syrian rebels along the Syria-Turkey border told the Times that Riyadh's main supplier of weapons was Lebanese Member of Parliament Okab Sakr of the political coalition of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a key Saudi ally in Lebanon.

"The amounts are not that much," a rebel commander who only gave his first name Maysara was quoted as saying. "They deliver weapons once every few weeks."

Maysara was quotes as saying the Saudi government appeared intent on financing more secular rebel groups, while Doha seemed closer to the Muslim Brotherhood.

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