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Reports that Assad is firing Scud missiles on rebel strongholds in the north are also a source of concern for the US, in part because unleashing the notoriously inaccurate missiles suggests a growing desperation on the Syrian leader’s part.
Perhaps even more worrisome is the spillover threat the Scuds pose. US officials worry that a missile even unintentionally striking across the northern border into Turkey could cause Turkey to enter the fight and lead to a dangerous regional expansion of the conflict.
The US was represented at the Marrakesh Friends of Syria meeting by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who hailed the gathering as an important step in the international community’s efforts to help end Syria’s violence and usher in a political transition post-Assad.
The meeting reportedly resulted in pledges of nearly $150 million in aid to the rebels, including a $100 million commitment from Saudi Arabia.
The US, which is the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Syrians caught in a civil war that has killed more than 40,000 people, has pressed for other countries, in particular wealthy Gulf states, to come forward with more aid.
At the same time, however, some US officials speak privately of their concerns that aid from the Sunni Gulf states – from both governments and individuals – will flow to Syria’s Sunni majority, and in particular to extremist groups like the al-Nusra Front, and raise prospects of sectarian warfare.
Senior US officials discussing this week’s al-Nusra terrorist designation said the US takes every opportunity to convey its concerns about Syria’s extremist forces and Al Qaeda’s growing influence there with Saudi and other Gulf officials.