• Kerry vows new aid for Syria’s rebels

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    US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) shares a laugh with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani during a meeting at Wajbah Palace in Doha on Sunday. AFP PHOTO

    US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) shares a laugh with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani during a meeting at Wajbah Palace in Doha on Sunday. AFP PHOTO

    DOHA: United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry has vowed new support for Syria’s rebels but beyond tougher talk, it remains unclear how much has changed.

    Kerry met with fellow opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime during talks Saturday in the Gulf Arab monarchy of Qatar, a stalwart supporter of the Sunni Muslim rebels.

    Qatar said that the talks agreed on a “secret” plan to ramp up assistance to rebels fighting the conflict that has claimed nearly 100,000 lives.

    But Kerry declined to lay out specifics other than to insist that—after three similar meetings among foreign ministers—the time the situation has changed.

    “It’s not anything we say today that will make the difference to Assad; it’s what happens in the days and weeks and months ahead—and I hope not too many months,” Kerry told reporters.

    “But the reality is what happened here today is different because the situation on the ground is different,” Kerry said.

    He pointed to US President Barack Obama’s stated willingness to step up support for the rebels after concluding that Assad defied his warnings by using chemical weapons.

    The rebels have reported receiving new equipment from “friendly” countries—a possible allusion to Gulf Arab states—but the United States, France and Britain have been quiet on what they have provided.

    Participants in the Doha talks said that the reticence was partly a nod to concerns by Italy and especially Germany, which has repeatedly cautioned that weapons could aggravate the conflict.

    Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, meeting with Kerry, said that all but two countries agreed in the Doha talks on plans to support the rebels.

    He insisted that Qatar, which has played an increasingly outsized role in the region, was only sending support to the mainstream Free Syrian Army.

    US officials have privately voiced concern about potential support by Arab states to more extreme elements in the increasingly sectarian conflict.

    Obama has publicly warned of the risks of a full-fledged military intervention against Assad, a member of the Alawite minority who leads a secular-minded state.

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