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Islamists Fighting with Syrian Rebels Get Arms from Saudi Arabia and Qatar

October 15, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: Now to Syria, where the death toll continues to climb and there are new reports that most of the weapons sent to aid the rebellion are ending up in the hands of Islamist extremists.

Smoke mingled with sunset in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, as block-by-block battles rage between President Bashar al-Assad fighters and rebels.

MUDAR NAJAR ABU BAKER, Free Syrian Army (through translator): The dead and dying, the innocent, the breast-feeding babies, the children and the old folk, all I desire is that the world shows a little empathy for us. That is all I want.

RAY SUAREZ: To the east, in Deir el-Zour, Internet videos showed casualties in the aftermath of an airstrike. Human Rights Watch reported Sunday the Assad regime is using cluster bombs in civilian areas. They detonate above ground and scatter smaller bomblets.

Based on YouTube videos and eyewitness testimony, the group said its analysts believe the bombs are older Russian munitions of Soviet vintage.

The Syrian government denied it and Russia’s foreign minister argued there’s no confirmation that the ordnance was supplied by Russia.

And amid the massive human toll, a cultural casualty. The Umayyad Mosque, dating from the 12th century, was partially destroyed over the weekend.

WOMAN: Again, in Aleppo, the Syrian army defeated an armed terrorist group which was trying to occupy the Umayyad Mosque.

RAY SUAREZ: Its state TV said President Assad ordered urgent repairs. Rebels said the Syrian army had been using the mosque as a base.

Meanwhile, Turkey, a former ally of Assad, massed troops and tanks along its frontier with Syria, as refugees kept streaming over the border.

MAN (through translator): Right over there is Azmarin. That’s my village. There are so many refugees here now and the camps are overflowing.

Our village has been destroyed. Houses have been burned. The regime has burned down many, many homes. One of those homes was ours.

RAY SUAREZ: For the second time in a week, the Turks also forced a Syria-bound flight to land in Turkey. The Armenian airliner was allowed to fly on after a search found it carried only humanitarian aide, but the flow of lethal assistance to the rebels was raising new questions.

The New York Times reported today that weapons principally from Saudi Arabia and Qatar are ending up mostly with hard-line Islamist groups and jihadists, and not with more secular factions favored by Western nations. The Obama administration has so far declined to ship arms to Syrian rebels, and the State Department today reiterated the concerns about who is being armed.

VICTORIA NULAND, State Department: We have been clear from the beginning that there are issues here as to where this goes and that we need to all work hard to ensure that extremists, jihadists, al-Qaida, other groups who don’t share our larger interest in seeing a democratic Syria emerge from all of this, get their hands on weapons that can be used to exploit the situation.

RAY SUAREZ: The U.S. is providing select groups with what it calls nonlethal assistance in the form of communications and logistics.