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Libya helps bankroll Syrian opposition movement

CAIRO — The top financer of the Syrian opposition is no Arabian Peninsula oil kingdom or cloak-and-dagger Western spy outfit, but struggling, war-ravaged Libya, which is itself recovering from a devastating civil conflict.

According to a budget released by the Syrian National Council and posted to its Web site late Sunday, the Libyan government contributed $20.3 million of the $40.4 million that the opposition umbrella group has amassed since its creation in October 2011.

Qatar gave $15 million, and the United Arab Emirates contributed $5 million, according to the document.

Unlike Qatar and the UAE, which are absolute monarchies, Libya has embarked on a rocky path toward democracy and shares an ideological vision with Syrian revolutionaries.

Oil-rich Libya has emerged as one of the Syrian uprising’s firmest and earliest backers. Perhaps dozens, if not hundreds, of veterans of the NATO-backed rebel insurgency that ousted autocrat Moammar Gaddafi have traveled to Syria to fight the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Its interim foreign minister said this year that his government could not prevent Libyans from heading to Syria to fight, nor could it condemn them for doing so.

The Libyan government was among the first Arab nations to sever ties with the regime in Damascus. But some Libyans question the expenditure, especially in light of reports about violent and extreme behavior by some armed Syrian opposition groups.

“I don’t think we have the legitimacy to pay this money, and what is it for? Are we paying money to al-Qaeda or to the rebels in Syria?” said Abdel­hamid el-Jadi, an independent analyst and fiscal monitor in Tripoli. “This is the Libyan people’s money. Yes, revolution is fine. But we have al-Qaeda in Syria. That’s not revolution.”

The SNC’s publication of its budget appeared aimed at boosting its credibility by being transparent over its financing. According to the document, the SNC still has about $10.7 million in the bank.

The report breaks down expenditures by category and geography. According to the six-page document, 11 percent of the money collected has been spent on overhead, with the rest devoted to aiding Syrians inside the country or refugees in neighboring states.

Roughly 7 percent of the funds, or about $2.8 million, has been allocated to the Free Syrian Army. About $290,000 has been spent on hotels for SNC representatives during travels abroad. The organization spent about $160,000 on relief efforts for the two mostly ethnic Kurdish provinces of northwest Syria.

The release of the budget report comes as the organization faces international pressure to join a more broad-based body of the Syrian opposition, effectively diluting its influence. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for a new body to better represent groups on the ground inside Syria.

In an apparent attempt to shore up its status ahead of a meeting this week to discuss the U.S.-backed proposals, the SNC announced Monday that it would expand its membership to include more people within Syria.

Syria was shaken by another day of heavy violence Monday. A suicide bomber killed at least 50 soldiers in the central province of Hama, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group. The group said the attacker was from Jabhat al-Nusra, an extremist Islamist group that is playing an increasingly high-profile role in the fight against government forces.

At least 20 rebels were killed during the aerial bombardment of a town in Idlib, the rights group said.

In addition, five civilians were killed when a rocket fell on a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, amid clashes and bombardments in the nearby Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood, the rights group said.

— Financial Times

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