news 26 Feb 13

Saudis Bought Croatian Arms to Help Syria Rebels

Saudi Arabia has been supplying Syrian rebels with infantry weapons from Croatia in its drive to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad, The New York Times has reported.

The New York Times

The New York Times reported on Monday that Saudi Arabia has paid for a "large purchase of infantry weapons" from Croatia to help anti-government fighters in Syria.

Citing unnamed US and Western officials, the purchase, which was part of an "undeclared surplus" of arms left over from the Balkan wars in the 1990s, allegedly began reaching anti-regime fighters via Jordan in December.

As a result, the weapons contributed to the rebels’ small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to President Bashar as-Assad.

Since then, the US newspaper added, "multiple planeloads" of weapons have left Croatia, with one official quoted as saying that the shipments included "thousands of rifles and hundreds of machine guns," as well as an "unknown quantity of ammunition".

Danijela Barisic, a spokeswoman for the Croatian foreign ministry, told the Times that since the start of the so-called Arab Spring, the country had not sold any weapons to either Saudi Arabia or Syrian rebels. Saudi and Jordanian officials declined to comment, the newspaper added.

If it has shipped arms to Syrian rebels, Croatia has violated its own decision to join the EU sanctions against Syria, which ban the sale of weapons to any side in the conflict.

The newspaper quoted one senior US official as describing the shipments as "a maturing of the opposition's logistical pipeline".

Rebels have been fighting Assad's regime since an uprising erupted in March 2011. According to the latest data of the UN, the fighting has claimed 70,000 lives.

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