Central Intelligence Agency operatives are speeding the flow of automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades and other arms from southern Turkey to Syrian rebels, according to a recent report. The weapons are paid for by the governments of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
C.I.A. officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people, one Arab intelligence official who is briefed regularly by American counterparts told the New York Times in a report published Thursday.
The news comes as both the Arab League and Russia are pointing fingers at each other, demanding a stop to the channeling of arms to the battered country, where at least 14,400 people have been killed in the 15-month civil war. An additional 1.5 million people are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, according to aid agencies.
The CIA has been working on this project for several weeks and using intermediaries that include members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Agents are also there to make sure the weapons don't end up in the hands of anti-Western Islamist militants, according to the report.
Citing anonymous retired CIA and other American officials, the paper said the intelligence agency is offering other forms of assistance to opposition forces fighting the government of President Bashar al Assad.
The weapons flowing into Syria from Arab states and Turkey has riled Russia, which has for years sold high-tech military equipment to the Assad government. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday for the first time called directly on the United States to stop helping anti-government forces in Syria, saying that his country only sells anti-air defense systems to the country's legitimate government.
Russia has said before that foreign powers needed to stop channeling weapons to help the resistance overthrow what it considers to be the legitimate authority. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fired back, accusing Russia of sending military attack helicopters to Assad's forces.
The Arab League also ratcheted up its rhetoric, calling on Thursday for Russia to stop helping the Syrian government.
Any assistance to violence must be ceased because when you supply military equipment, you help kill people. This must stop, the League's Secretary General Ahmed Ben Hilli told Interfax news agency in comments translated into Russian, the AFP reported.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday after the G-20 summit in Mexico that Russia's support for the Syrian government is steadfast.
Meanwhile, in Homs province, clashes between rebels and military forces escalated, especially in the city of Qusayr, where smoke billowed out of residential districts and heavy fighting erupted near a hospital, the AFP reported.
In Daraa province, where the opposition to the Assad regime first erupted, army forces carried out a series of raids and bombarded the town of Inkhel. The International Committee of the Red Cross says the city of Homs has run out of food and has been without electricity since Sunday.