Paper: Documents Show U.S. Is Funding Syrian Opposition

April 18, 2011 - 10:56 AM

Washington (AP) - The State Department has been secretly financing opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, The Washington Post reported, citing previously undisclosed diplomatic documents provided to the newspaper by the WikiLeaks website.

One of the outfits funded by the U.S. is Barada TV, a London-based satellite channel that broadcasts anti-government news into Syria, the Post reported Sunday. Barada's chief editor, Malik al-Abdeh, is a cofounder of the Syrian exile group Movement for Justice and Development.

The leaked documents show that the U.S. has provided at least $6 million to Barada TV and other opposition groups inside Syria, the newspaper said.

The Obama administration has reached out to Assad's regime, hoping to persuade it to change its policies regarding Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and support for extremist groups. In January, the U.S. stationed an ambassador in Damascus, the capital, for the first time in five years.

The Post said it was not clear from the WikiLeaks documents whether the U.S. was still financing Assad's opponents, though they showed funding had been set aside through September 2010.

Syrian activists have been staging protests against Assad's authoritarian regime for more than a month. More than 200 people have been killed as security forces tried to crush the protests.

On Sunday, gunmen opened fire during a funeral for a slain anti-government protester, killing at least three people, according to witnesses and activists. Tens of thousands of Syrians took to the streets nationwide despite Assad's promise to end nearly 50 years of emergency rule this week, a key demand of the protesters.

Last week, the State Department said Iran appeared to be helping Syria crack down on protesters, calling it a troubling example of Iranian meddling in the region.

"If Syria's turning to Iran for help, it can't be very serious about real reform," spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.