World Bulletin/News Desk
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are paying salaries to rebel forces fighting in the Syrian revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, an Arab diplomat said on Saturday.
"The payment has been going on for months and the agreement was made on April 2 by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with logistical organisation from Turkey where some Free Syrian Army factions are based," said the source, who requested anonymity.
"The point of this is to encourage as many factions of the Syrian army to defect and to organize the FSA, control it and prevent any extremist organizations from joining it."
A spokesman for Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry said on Saturday he was not aware of reports that the kingdom was funding Syrian rebels.
The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have been killed since violence broke out after Syrian government forces began a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters over a year ago.
Syria says at least 2,600 members of its military and security forces have been killed by what it calls foreign-backed "Islamist terrorists".
Western and Arab states, meeting on April 1, called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to adopt a peace plan brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan, withdraw his troops from Syrian cities and allow access for humanitarian aid.
They made no mention of arming the FSA but said they would "continue to work on additional appropriate measures with a view to the protection of the Syrian people".
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her government was supplying "communications equipment that will help activists organize, evade attacks by the regime and connect to the outside world" and was "discussing with other nations how best to expand this support".
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The official Saudi Press Agency reported that the 17 were were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 2-1/2 years to 26 years.
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Israel announced the appropriation of land in the Etzion Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem, a move which an anti-settlement group said was the biggest such claim in 30 years
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Iceland cut the level back to orange - the next highest level - saying the eruption was not creating ash.