WikiLeaks dumps Syria files

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Anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks on Thursday began publishing the first of what it says is a cache of over 2.4 million emails from Syrian officials.

“The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on the group's website.

The release comes as diplomats from the US, Europe, Turkey and Arab League meet in Paris on Friday for a conference of the so-called Friends of Syria. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will represent the United States at the meeting.

The first WikiLeaks files released Thursday concern alleged transactions between Italian defense firm Finmeccanica and the Assad regime.

WikiLeaks has worked out partnerships with several media outlets to publish the material over the next two months, it said, including :Al Akhbar (Lebanon), Al Masry Al Youm (Egypt), ARD (Germany), Associated Press (US), L’Espresso (Italy), Owni (France) Publico.es (Spain), and others which have not yet been disclosed.

The database of over 2.4 million emails dating from 2006-2012 includes about 400,000 emails in Arabic and 68,000 emails in Russian, WikiLeaks said.

Russia to date has proved to be Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's most important diplomatic protector, blocking repeated efforts at the UN Security Council to call for a political transition aimed at easing the violence that has killed over 14,000 people.

Assange has his own ties to Russia. Last spring, he launched a talk show on the pro-Kremlin media network, Russia Today (RT), where his first guest was Hezbollah founder Hassan Nasrallah. (Meantime, Assange  last month took refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in the UK, seeking to escape extradition to Sweden to face sex assault charges.)

Separately, pro-Assad supporters on Thursday hacked the Twitter account of an Al Jazeera English program, the Associated Press reported Thursday:

One message claimed the stunt in the name of the Syrian Electronic Army, a group which has carried out a string of Web attacks against targets it sees as sympathetic to Syria's rebels.

 (Photo: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds a document containing leaked information at a news conference in London, February 27, 2012. The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks began publishing on Monday more than five million emails from a U.S.-based global security analysis company that has been likened to a shadow CIA. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly.)

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