Kerry and 'Friends of Syria' to meet in Doha

The meeting will address arming Syrian rebels and a stalled peace effort. Lots of supporters of rebels will be there, but key backers of Syria's government, like Russia, won't.

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    In this June 19, 2013, photo, Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a Gays and Lesbian in Foreign Affairs Agencies Pride event at the State Department in Washington.
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Secretary of State John Kerry will begin a two-week trip through the Middle East tomorrow in Doha, Qatar, where he'll meet with 11 other foreign ministers to discuss policy regarding the Syrian civil war and the arming of rebels.

This will be Secretary Kerry’s first meeting of the “Friends of Syria” group since President Obama announced his decision to arm rebel forces in Syria, and will be used to address concerns raised by allies that the proposed military aid will not be enough, according to Bloomberg.

Though Mr. Obama has authorized the provision of small arms and ammunition, he has withheld heavier weaponry or the establishment of a no-fly zone, despite for calls for such from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), reports the Daily Star.

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Calling for anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, [FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad] said that “if they do not provide us with arms to protect civilian areas, a humanitarian disaster will occur because regime troops are committing massacres in the areas they are recapturing.”

Western powers have so far refused to arm opposition rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops out of fear they could fall into the hands of radical Islamists.

But Meqdad said “we are committed to ensuring that these weapons do not fall into the hands of unorganised or extremist groups.”

Others, such as France and Saudi Arabia, share the concerns of the FSA that the military aid promised so far will not be enough to change the course of the conflict, reports Bloomberg.

The civil war in Syria, which has pitted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against opposition forces, has been raging for more than two years and has claimed the lives of more than 93,000 people. Recently, government forces with the help of their ally Hezbollah, have reclaimed territory previously held by rebels, such as the town of Qusayr in Homs Province near the border with Lebanon. Now, forces loyal to Assad are fighting to take back Aleppo from the rebels.

Also on the agenda for the meeting is the proposed US-Russia backed peace talks between Assad and the rebels in Geneva. However, the growing rift between Russia and the West over Syria is proving to be a stumbling block. Most recently, Russia’s unwavering support for Assad frustrated talks on Syria during the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, says the Khaleej Times.

“We are trying to find a way for the Russians to play some type of constructive role and to stay engaged in the process,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, according to the Washington Post.

Russia, unsurprisingly, will not be present at the meeting in Doha this weekend and, in turn, views the US role in Syria as dangerous and counterproductive.

Among the countries that will be represented are Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar all of whom have been financially backing the largely Sunni rebels against the Alawite-dominated government, particularly Qatar, according to openDemocracy.net. Egyptian theologian Sheikh Yussuf Qaradawi has been using Qatar as a platform for his sermons, in which he calls for "a jihad in Syria against Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah, which are killing Sunnis and Christians and Kurds."

Also expected is Egypt, whose Muslim Brotherhood-led government has recently upped its role in the Syrian conflict. As The Christian Science Monitor reported last week:

 Speaking in plainly sectarian terms, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref told Reuters that "throughout history, Sunnis have never been involved in starting a sectarian war" and that the movement backed a declaration issued by a group of regional clerics on Thursday that called for "jihad with mind, money, weapons - all forms of jihad" in Syria.

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The Brotherhood's belligerent rhetoric would appear to match the Obama's administration shift on arming Syria's rebels. But the way they're talking about the war in Syria - with calls for jihad, rooted in anti-Shiite enmity - will not be giving many people in Washington the warm and fuzzies.

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