US secretly financing Syrian opposition


WASHINGTON – The US government has been secretly financing Syrian opposition groups, including a satellite TV channel beaming anti-regime programming into the country, The Washington Post reported Monday.
Citing previously undisclosed diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks, the newspaper said the London-based Barada TV channel, which began broadcasting in April 2009, has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria.
Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles, The Post said.
Classified US diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million (4.1 million euros) to the group since 2006, the report said.
Protests calling for greater freedom and sweeping political reform erupted in Syria on March 15, posing an unprecedented challenge to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, in power since 2000.
Assad on Saturday pledged to lift almost 50 years of draconian emergency rule within a week, but the gesture was brushed aside as not enough and was followed by new protests.
Syrian security forces on Sunday opened fire on a funeral procession in Talbisseh near the central town of Homs killing at least four people and injuring around 50, according to witnesses.
The US money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under former president George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005, the report said, adding that it has continued under President Barack Obama.
The cables provided by WikiLeaks show that some US Embassy officials suggested that the State Department reconsider its involvement, The Post said.
Syrian authorities “would undoubtedly view any US funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,” the paper quoted one of the cables from a top-ranking US diplomat as saying.
“A reassessment of current US-sponsored programming that supports … factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive,” the cable went on to say.