US allows financial support for armed Syrian rebels


The U.S. government has authorized a U.S. group to provide financial and logistical support to the armed Syrian resistance, I report on the front page.

The waiver was received from the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) last week, Brian Sayers, of the Syrian Support Group, told Al- Monitor in an interview Friday.

“The OFAC decision is huge,” Sayers said. “It gets us the leeway to support the Free Syrian Army in broad terms.”

A photograph of the OFAC letter seen by Al Monitor showed that it was signed by a Treasury Department official on July 23. (The document has since been removed from the Internet.)

Sayers, an American who previously worked for six years in NATO operations in Brussels, was hired last spring by the Syrian Support Group to work Washington to “support the Free Syrian Army in different ways.”

But one Syrian source, speaking anonymously, suggested the Syrian Support Group’s mission is not only about lobbying the US government to provide support to the FSA, but also the reverse: to help turn the FSA into a more organized entity that could receive intelligence and other assistance from Western security agencies.

To that end, all nine members of the FSA’s military command this week signed on to a previously unpublished “Declaration of Principles” pledging their commitment to pluralism and democracy. “We believe in a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society that honors and upholds freedom of expression, thought and conscience,” the document states.

But reports from the ground make such pledges still seem abstract. The New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson reported Friday that an FSA potentate he met in the northern Syrian town of Aziz has taken 11 Lebanese Shiites hostage to see what he might get in a trade. Abu Ibrahim pulled the men off a bus of pilgrims suspecting they might be tied to Hezbollah, Anderson reported.

After meeting the hostages, Anderson wrote, “I had the distinct impression that Abu Ibrahim, a veteran cross-border trader, was hinting strongly that he wanted to make a deal—with whom he left intentionally vague—and perhaps receive something in exchange for his guests.”

(Photo: A Free Syrian Army soldier raises his rifle at the Bab Al-Salam border crossing to Turkey July 22, 2012. Syrian forces regained control of one of two border crossings seized by rebels on the frontier with Iraq, Iraqi officials said, but rebels said they had captured a third border crossing with Turkey, Bab al-Salam north of Aleppo. REUTERS/Umit Bektas.)