BEIRUT — Turkey and the United States plan to provide “nonlethal” assistance, like communications equipment and medical supplies, directly to opposition groups inside Syria, and will urge other allies to do so as well, the White House deputy national security adviser said on Sunday, after President Obama met with the prime minister of Turkey at a nuclear security conference in Seoul, South Korea.
The United States had already announced that it had been providing humanitarian aid to opposition groups. And on Sunday an administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the United States had already begun to supply some aid, including communications gear, to the rebel Free Syrian Army. The agreement with Turkey would formalize and increase that aid, though officials insist that no weaponry would be sent.
The two countries also agreed to set up a framework for further humanitarian and technical aid at the “Friends of Syria” meeting to be held Sunday in Istanbul, according to the deputy security adviser, Benjamin J. Rhodes.
The news that the United States was already assisting the Syrian opposition and would expand that aid was expected to annoy Russia, the most important of Syria’s few remaining friends. Russia has wielded its veto in the United Nations Security Council to head off a resolution condemning the government of President Bashar al-Assad for its violent crackdown on the opposition. On Sunday, the Russian government denounced what it called one-sided political support for the opposition from the United States and others.
The diplomatic developments came on the same day that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood outlined a vision of a post-Assad Syria, calling for “a democratic, civil state” with religious freedoms.
At a news conference in Istanbul broadcast live on the regional television channel Al Arabiya, leaders of the Brotherhood said they wanted to share power with other groups, not to “control Syria alone.”
Western and Arab diplomats have been trying to get the fractious Syrian opposition in exile to unify before the meeting next Sunday. Divisions and frictions among Mr. Assad’s opponents have been an obstacle to providing either munitions or nonmilitary aid to the opposition or to Syrian civilians affected by the conflict.
It was not clear on Sunday whether the nonlethal aid discussed by Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Sunday would go directly to rebel fighters. The opposition inside Syria includes both armed rebels and nonviolent protest groups; both are in dire need of medical equipment and other supplies, activists say.
Russia objects to any foreign military assistance to the rebels, but has been unwilling to stop its own arms sales to the Assad government.
Kofi Annan, the joint envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League on the Syrian conflict, met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, in Moscow on Sunday. The two said that the international community should not take sides in the Syrian conflict.
Mr. Annan’s mission is to help bring an end to the violence and a political transition in Syria through mediation among the two sides and their international supporters. His spokesman, Ahmed Fawzi, described the tone of the Moscow meetings as cooperative, and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia said on Sunday that Mr. Annan’s effort might be “Syria’s last chance to avoid a protracted and bloody civil war.”
But there was no sign on Sunday that the violence in Syria was abating. Opposition activists reported heavy shelling in Homs and helicopters firing on cities in the north. The official Syrian news agency SANA said that an “armed terrorist group” had attacked a gas pipeline in the east; the agency routinely uses that term to refer to the opposition.
A Human Rights Watch report issued on Sunday said that Syrian troops were using civilians as human shields. The report quoted witnesses from four towns in the northern province of Idlib who said that groups of people, often including children, were forced to march in front of troops and armored vehicles. Three witnesses in Ayn Larouz were cited as saying that troops there had placed children on their tanks.
In Istanbul, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leaders said that they were grateful for the support from Turkey and Arab countries, but that the opposition needed more help. They also offered reassurances that they wanted to share power in a post-Assad Syria.
Some members of the largest opposition umbrella group to emerge so far, the Syrian National Council, have expressed concern that the Brotherhood seeks to dominate the council and any future government.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest and most influential Sunni Islamist group in the region, and its offshoots in Tunisia and Egypt gained significant power in elections after those countries’ uprisings, but it is unclear how the group in Syria would be positioned. The leadership was crushed and driven from the country in the 1980s after an uprising in Hama and many of the rebels fighting in Syria have expressed frustration with the exile leadership.
Speaking at the Brotherhood’s news conference in Istanbul on Sunday were Ali Sadreddin al-Bayanouni, who led the outlawed group from London; Mohammed Riad al-Shaqfa, who succeeded Mr. Bayanouni in 2010; and Mohammed Farouk Tayfour, the group’s representative on the Syrian National Council.
They said the Brotherhood wanted the new Syria to guarantee freedom of speech and religion, and that it was committed to “fighting terrorism and respecting international treaties.”
Reporting was contributed by Steven Lee Myers from Washington; Mark Landler from Seoul, South Korea; Hala Droubi from Beirut; and David M. Herszenhorn from Moscow.
Author: Anne Barnard
Published: March 25, 2012