High-level uniformed-services officers from the United States, Britain, France, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates met privately in London a few weeks ago at the request of British Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss providing military training to the rebels and supporting them with air and naval power, The Independent reported Tuesday.
The countries concluded the 21-month-old civil war in Syria had reached a tipping point and countries supporting the opposition must help rebel fighters succeed in a final push to defeat President Bashar Assad, the newspaper said.
The Western nations are especially concerned about wanting to influence the political shape of the opposition the West hopes will replace Assad, the newspaper said.
In Washington, the Treasury Department announced Tuesday it sanctioned Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al-Juburi and Anas Hasan Khattab, two senior members of the Syrian-based al-Nusrah Front for acting on behalf of al-Qaida in Iraq.
The State Department designated and sanctioned al-Nusrah Front Monday.
Also Tuesday, the Treasury Department sanctioned two armed militia groups operating under the control of the Syrian government, Jaysh al-Shabi and Shabiha, and two Shabiha commanders.
The sanctions block the designated entities from accessing property or interest on property in the United States or in possession or control of U.S. residents. The sanctions also prohibit U.S. residents from conducting business dealings with the sanctioned entity.
"The United States will continue to aggressively pursue those who undermine the desires of the Syrian people to realize a representative government that does not employ violence against its own people. We will target the pro-Assad militias just as we will the terrorists who falsely cloak themselves in the flag of the legitimate opposition," Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said.
Jihadist groups among the rebels have gained power and influence due to weapons and money coming from some Persian Gulf states, The Independent said. This puts secular groups at a severe disadvantage, it said.
To counteract that, Western help will be directed at strengthening moderate groups, The Independent said.
Washington, London and Paris agreed at the meeting none of their countries would have "boots on the ground" to help the rebels.
Training camps could be set up in Turkey, the newspaper said.
Any such military action would also likely take place without U.N. authorization, The Independent said. Russia and China are unlikely to back such a resolution.
Washington had no immediate comment on the report. Nor did any of the other countries reported at the meeting.
French newspaper Le Figaro reported French military advisers already met with Syrian rebel groups across the border in Lebanon. Washington is believed to have stockpiled weapons retrieved in Libya for future supply to Syria, The Independent said.
Al-Nusra Front, which helped capture a military base near Aleppo Monday, is separate from the opposition Free Syrian Army, but many FSA leaders recognize its strength and order their forces to cooperate with it, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported.
Twenty-nine opposition groups signed a petition in support of Jabhat al-Nusra in defiance of Washington. Mainstream opposition activists expressed anger at the State Department's announcement.
"It is terrible timing on the part of the United States," Mulham Jundi, who works with the opposition charity Watan Syria, told the Telegraph.
"By calling [al-Nusrah Front] terrorists, the U.S. is legitimizing the Syrian regime's bombardment of cities like Aleppo. Now the government can [legitimately] say it is attacking terrorists."
The Assad regime has insisted it is fighting foreign terrorists.
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