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By: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BEIRUT (AP) – Syrian government troops clashed with rebel forces across the country Monday as international envoy Kofi Annan prepared to brief the U.N. Security Council on the progress of his mission to ease the nation’s crisis.
A new flurry of high-level diplomacy has failed to stop the violence in a year-old conflict that the U.N. says has killed more than 9,000 people.
On Monday, more than 70 countries, including the United States, pledged to send millions of dollars and communications equipment to opposition groups inside Syria, signaling a growing belief that diplomacy and sanctions alone will not end the repression and push Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.
Participants at an international diplomatic conference in Istanbul on Sunday said Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are creating a fund to pay Syrian rebels fighters known as the Free Syrian Army and soldiers who defect from the regime. One delegate described the fund as a “pot of gold” to undermine Assad’s army.
Participants confirmed the Gulf plan on condition of anonymity because details were still being worked out. One said the fund would involve several million dollars a month. It is said to be earmarked for salaries, but it was not clear whether there would be any effort to prevent the money from being used to buy arms, an issue that could prompt stronger accusations of military meddling.
Anti-regime activists inside Syria welcomed the news, while worrying that the aid would be too little, too late.
“This is what we have been asking for, but if they had decided to do this months ago, we could have avoided a large number of martyrs,” said Fadi al-Yassin from the northern province of Idlib. “We know that there is no way to topple the regime without force.”
As the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, Annan has been pushing a six-point plan to end the country’s crisis that includes an immediate daily two-hour halt to fighting so aid can reach suffering civilians. It also calls for an overall cease-fire so all parties can discuss a political solution.
Annan is scheduled to brief the U.N. Security Council in New York on his progress Monday.
The Syrian government has said it accepts his plan while rejecting some of the steps it requires, like withdrawing its troops from towns and cities. Its attacks on opposition areas have continued unabated.
The opposition has also rejected dialogue with the regime, saying it has killed too many people to be part of a solution to the crisis.
While international condemnation of Assad’s crackdown has grown, Russia and China have stood by Assad, twice protecting his regime from censure by the U.N. Security Council. Neither country accepted invitations to Sunday’s conference, dubbed “Friends of the Syrian People.”