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 yesterday.
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 US Department of State has funneled as much as US$6 million 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 Syrian 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.
The US money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under former US president George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005, the report said, adding that it has continued under US 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.
Meanwhile, at least seven people were killed overnight by security forces in the flashpoint town of Homs, rights activists said yesterday.
On Sunday, at least four people were killed and about 50 wounded when Syrian security forces opened fire on a funeral procession in Talbisseh, near Homs, witnesses said.
Regime supporters also broke up two rallies in southern Syria, wile in the country’s major port, Latakia, about 10,000 people took to the streets late on Sunday after the funeral of a protester killed on Friday, a rights activist said.
Security forces “opened fire on a crowd of thousands of people” in Homs at the funeral of a man killed in the area the previous day, witnesses said by telephone.
“At least four people were killed, but the toll could be much higher. There were also more than 50 wounded,” one witness said.
The official news agency SANA reported: “One policeman was killed and 11 others were wounded by fire from an armed criminal group in Talbisseh.”
“Three armed criminals were killed and 15 others injured, as well as five soldiers,” the report added. “The criminals opened fire from buildings close to an army post near the bridge where the army had been sent to apprehend these gangs.”
The current emergency law in place in Syria restricts public gatherings and movement, authorizes the interrogation of any individual and the monitoring of private communications and imposes media censorship.