Τρίτη, 26 Φεβρουαρίου 2013

Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms

Danijela Barisic, a spokeswoman for Croatia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that since the Arab Spring began, Croatia had not sold any weapons to either Saudi Arabia or the Syrian rebels. “We did not supply arms,” she said by telephone.
Igor Tabak, a Croatian military analyst, said that after a period when many countries in the former Yugoslavia sold weapons from the Balkan wars on black markets, Croatia, poised this year to join the European Union, now strictly adheres to international rules on arms transfers.
“I can’t imagine bigger quantities of weapons being moved without state sanctioning,” he said. “It is not impossible, but it is just very improbable.” He added that it was possible that such weapons could be moved by the intelligence services, though he offered no evidence that that was the case.
Syria’s rebels have acquired their arms through a variety of means, including smuggling from neighboring states, battlefield capture, purchases from corrupt Syrian officers and officials, sponsorship from Arab governments and businessmen, and local manufacture of crude rockets and bombs. But they have remained lightly equipped compared with the government’s conventional military, and have been prone to shortages.
An official in Washington said the possibility of the transfers from the Balkans was broached last summer, when a senior Croatian official visited Washington and suggested to American officials that Croatia had many weapons available should anyone be interested in moving them to Syria’s rebels.
At the time, the rebels were advancing slowly in parts of the country, but were struggling to maintain momentum amid weapons and ammunition shortages.
Washington was not interested then, the official said, though at the same time, there were already signs of limited Arab and other foreign military assistance.
Both Ukrainian-made rifle cartridges that had been purchased by Saudi Arabia and Swiss-made hand grenades that had been provided to the United Arab Emirates were found by journalists to be in rebel possession.
And Belgian-made rifles of a type not known to have been purchased by Syria’s military have been repeatedly seen in rebel hands, suggesting that one of Belgium’s previous rifle customers had transferred the popular weapons to the rebels.
But several officials said there had not been such a visible influx of new weapons as there has been in recent weeks.
By December, as refugees were streaming over Syria’s borders into Turkey and Jordan amid mounting signs of a wintertime humanitarian crisis, the Croatian-held weapons were back in play, an official familiar with the transfers said.
One Western official familiar with the transfers said that participants are hesitant to discuss the transfers because Saudi Arabia, which the official said has financed the purchases, has insisted on secrecy.
Jutarnji list, a Croatian daily newspaper, reported Saturday that in recent months there had been an unusually high number of sightings of Jordanian cargo planes at Pleso Airport in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital.
The newspaper said the United States, Croatia’s main political and military ally, was possibly the intermediary, and mentioned four sightings at Pleso Airport of Ilyushin 76 aircraft owned by Jordan International Air Cargo. It said such aircraft had been seen on Dec. 14 and 23, Jan. 6 and Feb. 18. Ivica Nekic, director of the agency in charge of arms exports in Croatia, dismissed the Croatian report as speculation.
C. J. Chivers reported from New York, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Robert F. Worth contributed reporting from Washington, and Dan Bilefsky from Paris.

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