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Rebels get influx of arms; Damascus push anticipated

– Mideast powers opposed to President Bashar Assad have dramatically stepped up weapons supplies to Syrian rebels in coordination with the U.S. in preparation for a push on the capital of Damascus, officials and Western military experts said Wednesday.

A carefully prepared covert operation is arming rebels, involving Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, with the United States and other Western governments consulting, and all parties hold veto power over where the shipments are directed, according to a senior Arab official whose government is participating. His account was corroborated by a diplomat and two military experts.

The Arab official said the number of arms airlifts has doubled in the past four weeks. He did not provide exact figures on the flights or the size of the cargo. Jordan opened up as a new route for the weapons late last year, amid U.S. worries that arms from Turkey were going to Islamic militants, all four told The Associated Press in separate interviews. Jordan denies helping funnel weapons to the rebels.

The two military experts, who closely follow the traffic, said the weapons include more powerful, Croatian-made anti-tank guns and rockets than the rebels have had before.

The Arab official said there was a “master plan” for the rebels to seize Damascus. He and the diplomat spoke to the AP on condition that their identities and their nationalities not be disclosed.

“The idea is that the rebels now have the necessary means to advance from different fronts – north from Turkey and south from Jordan – to close in on Damascus to unseat Assad,” the Arab official said.

Rebels in the south are fighting to secure supply lines from the border with Jordan to the capital, and the new influx of weapons from Jordan has fueled the drive, a rebel commander in a southwestern suburb of the capital said.

The consensus among the multiple rebel groups was that Damascus is the next objective, he added.

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