Wednesday, April 3, 2013

U.S. signals strength on North Korea, but speaks softly

As North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has issued increasingly belligerent statements toward South Korea and the United States in recent weeks, many North Asia analysts have concluded that the young Mr. Kim is acting to establish his tough-guy credentials with key audiences: the North Korean public, but also the military and other North Korean elites.

But in response, the Obama administration ? while actually saying little ? has also been acting to reassure the American public and key allies like South Korea and Japan, even as it tries to figure out what Kim Jong-un is really up to and the best way to deal with him, some regional experts say.

?The early superficial take-away on [Kim] is that he?s not afraid to be out front, not afraid to take risks.... He speaks more directly to the public than his father did, and after he?s established his military credentials he can then turn his focus to the economy,? says Jim Walsh, an expert in international security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology?s Security Studies Program.

RECOMMENDED: North Korea abandons armistice: 4 key questions answered

?But the US is also sending its own messages? by responding to Kim?s rhetoric ? which has included a vow to attack the US ? with the inclusion of nuclear-capable B-52s in US-South Korea military exercises and a reinforcing of missile defense batteries in Alaska, he says.

The Obama administration ?is sending a message of reassurance to South Korea and the American public in particular,? Dr. Walsh says, ?but [it is] also telling a leader who is really breaking new ground with direct and specific threats, ?If you keep talking like that, this is what you have to look forward to.? ?

But besides such messaging, the US has had very little to say in response to Kim?s actions ? which have included tearing up the Korean War armistice, severing a security communications line with Seoul, and publicly reviewing military planning for attacks on a number of US sites including Hawaii and Austin, Texas.

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Secretary of State John Kerry will certainly have more to say when he visits Japan, South Korea, and China in mid-April, but in the meantime the administration is speaking softly as it brandishes its big sticks. A White House spokesman said that the North is further isolating itself with its ?bellicose rhetoric? (last Friday) and Secretary Kerry has called on North Korea to ?engage in legitimate dialogue? instead of issuing threats (early last month).

The US has also been working to impose new sanctions and to reinforce international implementation of existing measures against North Korea since the United Nations Security Council approved a new round of sanctions last month in response to the North?s February nuclear test.

Some security analysts accuse the US of needlessly provoking Kim with a string of military measures at a delicate moment in the new leader?s consolidation of power. (At 29 or 30 years of age, Kim is the world?s youngest head of state, having assumed power at the death of his father in December 2011.)

But many other experts say the US has acted prudently as the unknown quantity in charge in Pyongyang ? who has already overseen a worrisome nuclear test and long-range missile launch ? has recently issued increasingly incendiary threats.

The US is simply covering its security bases, the latter reasoning goes, while it tries to figure out who Kim is and how best to approach him.

No one can even be certain that Kim is the guy in charge in North Korea, some analysts say. ?You can conclude that as a leader he seems to be quite risk-acceptant, but there?s also reason to be cautious and ask questions like, ?Is he really in charge, or is it a family clique or council?? ? says Walsh. ?Certainly the US government is still asking, ?What are his relations with the military?? ?

Given the deep uncertainties about North Korea, the US public seems to be broadly supportive of the Obama administration?s approach ? taking precautions militarily even as it imposes new sanctions to try to influence the North?s behavior ? according to a new Monitor/TIPP poll.

But the poll also suggests that the public may be out in front of the administration by strongly favoring the kind of ?dialogue? the White House is pursuing with Iran over its nuclear program but has not yet proposed with North Korea.

More than two-thirds of Americans ? 68 percent ? say they favor opening direct talks with the North Korean regime, according to the poll conducted March 25-30. Only 24 percent disagree with the idea of dialogue.

Even more popular is the imposition of economic sanctions. Nearly three-quarters of Americans ? 74 percent ? support exerting economic pressure and even increasing it with additional measures.

Much less popular among a war-weary populace is the idea of military intervention to ?remove? North Korea?s nuclear installations. Still, a sizable minority of 40 percent would support such action, while 53 percent oppose.

And among self-identified Republicans, military action against the North has the support of a small majority ? 51 percent.

MIT?s Walsh says he sees very little chance of US military action against the North, because he says no one involved in the current ratcheting-up of tensions wants a military confrontation ? neither the US nor the North, nor South Korea.

The danger, he says, is that someone makes a mistake that gets the military ball rolling.

And more long term, Walsh worries there will be repercussions from the precautionary actions the US has taken that the Obama administration may not wish to see. President Obama could see his nonproliferation and disarmament goals set back by the US ?brandishing? of its nuclear-ready aircraft, and not all of North Korea?s neighbors will interpret the US measures as a reassuring display of the US nuclear umbrella.

?Clearly one of [the US] goals is to reassure states like South Korea and Japan, ?You don?t have to go nuclear because we can protect you,? ? he says. ?But on the other hand, my guess is that the Russians and the Chinese aren?t too happy about the US flying nuclear-capable [aircraft] near their borders.?

RECOMMENDED: North Korea abandons armistice: 4 key questions answered

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

NASA seeks $100 million to capture an asteroid, report says

Rick Sternbach / Keck Institute for Space Studies

An artist's illustration of an asteroid retrieval spacecraft capturing a 500-ton, 7-meter-wide asteroid.

By Tariq Malik

NASA's budget request for the 2014 fiscal year may include plans for an ambitious mission to send a robotic probe into deep space, capture an asteroid and haul it back within the reach of astronaut explorers, according to a press report.

The space agency is apparently including a request for $100 million in its 2014 budget request to help fund the audacious asteroid capture mission, an Aviation Week report?said.?

The asteroid- retrieval mission was first proposed last year by the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. That study, released last April, revolved around an Asteroid Capture and Return mission?that would snag a 25-foot-wide (7 meters) space rock and place it in high lunar orbit by 2025 ? the deadline set by the Obama administration for NASA's human mission to an asteroid.

Total estimated cost of the asteroid mission: $2.6 billion.

In January, NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs told that the wild idea was one of several concepts being explored as a way to fulfill NASA's manned asteroid mission goal while working within current budget realities. [NASA Craft for Asteroid Missions Revealed (Photos)]

"There are many options ? and many routes ? being discussed on our way to the Red Planet," Jacobs, deputy associate administrator for the Office of Communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., told via email at the time. "NASA and the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are giving the study further review to determine its feasibility."

NASA officials said Friday?that they cannot comment on details of the agency's 2014 budget request until the Obama administration unveils the complete federal budget request on April 10.

According to the Aviation Week report?by veteran space writer Frank Morring Jr., NASA will include a request for funding in its 2014 budget request for just such a mission in order to bring a small asteroid within reach of astronauts flying on the agency's Orion deep space capsule. The $100 million in funding would be divided among NASA's human spaceflight, science and space technology divisions, Morring wrote.

Scientists who participated in the Keck study spoke before a National Research Council human spaceflight technical feasibility panel on March 28, describing the target as asteroid as essential "dried mudball" rather than a threatening space rock, Morring wrote.

President Barack Obama announced NASA's asteroid goal in April 2010 during a speech at the space agency's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. That year, he canceled NASA's moon-oriented Constellation program and called on the space agency to launch a manned mission to an asteroid by 2025, then aim to send astronauts on a Mars-bound mission in the mid-2030s.

The Keck study released last year cited a near-Earth asteroid capture mission as a potential gateway to manned Mars exploration.

"Experience gained via human expeditions to the small returned NEA would transfer directly to follow-on international expeditions beyond the Earth-moon system: to other near-Earth asteroids, (the Mars moons) Phobos and Deimos, Mars and potentially someday to the main asteroid belt," the mission concept team wrote in the study.

Since the Keck study's release, two U.S. companies have announced plans to send private missions to asteroids as space mining ventures. The firms, Planetary Resources Inc. in Seattle? and the new company Deep Space Industries Inc., are currently developing unmanned spacecraft and telescopes to identify ? and ultimately mine ? asteroid targets.?

Email Tariq Malik at or follow him?@tariqjmalik?and?Google+. Follow us?@Spacedotcom,?Facebook?and?Google+.?Original article on?

Copyright 2013, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Friday, March 29, 2013

Google Play movies now available in India and Mexico

Google Play movies now available in India and Mexico

Google Play's book collection opened up in India and Mexico just a few weeks ago, and now Mountain View's movie hoard is available in both countries on the web and through the content's Android app. It's no coincidence that the video service has gone live this week either -- we reckon that Page and Co. would love to see folks pair their new Nexus 7 slates with their favorite flicks. To get your mitts on the application, hit the second source link below.

Update: In another update for Indian readers, Gmail is ready to support six Indic languages in featurephone browsers: Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu.

Filed under:


Source: Google Play (Google+), Google Play Movies & TV (Google Play), Gmail


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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Obsessed fan who shot player, inspired movie, dies

FILE - In this June 18, 1949 file photo, Ruth Steinhagen, 19, held in the shooting of Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus at a Chicago hotel on June 14, 1949, writes notes for her life history in Cook County Jail in Chicago. At the table she has a photograph of Waitkus taken June 17 in the hospital where he was recovering from a bullet wound. Steinhagen died of natural causes at 83 in late December 2012. Her death is the final chapter in one of the most sensational and bizarre criminal cases in Chicago history that made headlines around the country. She was the inspiration for Bernard Malamud?s novel ?The Natural? and the 1984 movie starring Robert Redford. (AP Photo/File)

FILE - In this June 18, 1949 file photo, Ruth Steinhagen, 19, held in the shooting of Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus at a Chicago hotel on June 14, 1949, writes notes for her life history in Cook County Jail in Chicago. At the table she has a photograph of Waitkus taken June 17 in the hospital where he was recovering from a bullet wound. Steinhagen died of natural causes at 83 in late December 2012. Her death is the final chapter in one of the most sensational and bizarre criminal cases in Chicago history that made headlines around the country. She was the inspiration for Bernard Malamud?s novel ?The Natural? and the 1984 movie starring Robert Redford. (AP Photo/File)

FILE - In this Feb. 27, 1950 file photo, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus, right, shows scars resulting from an operation following his shooting in Chicago in 1949, to his roommate, outfielder Bill Nicholson, on a beach in Clearwater, Fla. Waitkus was working his way back into condition at the team's spring training camp in Clearwater. Waitkus had been shot by 19-year-old Ruth Steinhagen at a hotel in one of the most sensational and bizarre criminal cases in Chicago history that made headlines around the country. Steinhagen died of natural causes at 83 in late December 2012. She was the inspiration for Bernard Malamud?s novel ?The Natural? and the 1984 movie starring Robert Redford, a mysterious woman who lured a major league ballplayer she'd never met into a hotel room with a cryptic note and shot him. (AP Photo/File)

FILE - In this June 17, 1949 file photo, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus smiles from his bed in Illinois Masonic Hospital in Chicago as his father, Stephen, holds up his arm for an attempted wave. Waitkus was shot and seriously wounded June 14 in a Chicago hotel by 19-year-old Ruth Steinhagen. Steinhagen died of natural causes at 83 in late December 2012. Her death is the final chapter in one of the most sensational and bizarre criminal cases in Chicago history that made headlines around the country. She was the inspiration for Bernard Malamud?s novel ?The Natural? and the 1984 movie starring Robert Redford. (AP Photo/File)

FILE - In this Aug. 19, 1949 file photo, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus acknowledges the applause of fans at Shibe Park as he stands by gifts showered on him on "Eddie Waitkus Night" in Philadelphia. Waitkus was in uniform for the first time since he was shot, June 14, 1949, in a Chicago hotel by 19-year-old Ruth Steinhagen. Steinhagen died of natural causes at 83 in late December 2012. Her death is the final chapter in one of the most sensational and bizarre criminal cases in Chicago history that made headlines around the country. She was the inspiration for Bernard Malamud?s novel ?The Natural? and the 1984 movie starring Robert Redford. (AP Photo/File)

FILE - In this June 16, 1949 file photo, Ruth Steinhagen, 19, is seen at felony court in Chicago where she appeared for her hearing on charges of assault with intent to murder in the shooting of Philadelphia Phillies ball player Eddie Waitkus at a Chicago hotel on June 14, 1949. Steinhagen died of natural causes at 83 in late December 2012. Her death is the final chapter in one of the most sensational and bizarre criminal cases in Chicago history that made headlines around the country. She was the inspiration for Bernard Malamud?s novel ?The Natural? and the 1984 movie starring Robert Redford. (AP Photo/Charles Knoblock, File)

CHICAGO (AP) ? She inspired a novel and a movie starring Robert Redford when in 1949 she lured a major league ballplayer she'd never met into a hotel room with a cryptic note and shot him, nearly killing him.

After the headlines faded, Ruth Ann Steinhagen did something else just as surprising: She disappeared into obscurity, living a quiet life unnoticed in Chicago until now, more than a half century later, when news broke that she had died three months earlier.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed Friday that Steinhagen passed away of natural causes on Dec. 29, at the age of 83. First reported by the Chicago Tribune last week, her identity was a surprise even to the morgue employees who knew about the 1984 movie "The Natural," in which she was portrayed by actress Barbara Hershey.

"She chose to live in the shadows and she did a good job of it," John Theodore, an author who wrote a 2002 nonfiction book about the crime, wrote in an email Sunday.

The story, with its elements of obsession, mystery, insanity and a baseball star, made it part of both Chicago's colorful crime history and rich baseball lore.

The story began with what appeared to be just another young woman's crush on Eddie Waitkus, the Chicago Cubs' handsome first baseman. So complete was this crush that the teenager set a place for Waitkus, whom she'd never met, at the family dinner table. She turned her bedroom into a shrine to him, and put his photo under her pillow.

After the 1948 season, Waitkus was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies ? a fateful turn. "When he went to the Phillies, that's when she decided to kill him," Theodore said in an interview.

Steinhagen had her chance the next season, when the Phillies came to Chicago to play the Cubs at Wrigley Field. She checked into a room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel where he was staying and invited him to her room.

"We're not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about," she wrote in a note to him after a game at Wrigley on June 14, 1949.

It worked. Waitkus arrived at her room. After he sat down, Steinhagen walked to a closet, said, "I have a surprise for you," then turned with the rifle she had hidden there and shot him in the chest. Theodore wrote that she then knelt by his side and held his hand on her lap. She told a psychiatrist afterward about how she had dreamed of killing him and found it strange that she was now "holding him in my arms."

Newspapers devoured and trumpeted the lurid story of a 19-year-old baseball groupie, known in the parlance of the day as a "Baseball Annie." Among the sensational and probably staged photos was one showing Steinhagen writing in her journal at a table in her jail cell with a framed photograph of Waitkus propped nearby.

A judge determined she was insane and committed her to a mental hospital. She was released three years later, after doctors determined she had regained her sanity.

Details about the rest of her life are sketchy. She lived with her sister in a house just a few miles from the hotel where she shot Waitkus. A neighbor told Theodore that Steinhagen said she worked in an office for 35 years but never revealed her employer. And she made an effort to conceal her privacy, often refusing to answer the phone or come to the door when Theodore knocked.

Chris Gentner, a neighbor who used to help the Steinhagen sisters with chores, said he only found out who she was 15 years after they began living nearby.

"I found out through my ex-wife ? I'm not sure how she found out ? and I looked (Steinhagen) up online. And as soon as I saw (her photograph) online I said, 'That's her,'" Gentner said.

The 1984 movie was based on a novel by Bernard Malamud that was inspired by the story. Theodore's 2002 book was entitled "Baseball's Natural: The story of Eddie Waitkus."

Waitkus, who played the season after he was shot, helping the Phillies win the National League pennant, decided not to press charges in 1952 when Steinhagen was deemed sane. The trial would have likely made banner headlines ? particularly since Malamud's novel was released in 1952 ? so Watikus' decision almost certainly assisted Steinhagen's disappearance into obscurity.

He died in 1972, 12 years before Redford portrayed Roy Hobbs, the character inspired by Waitkus.

"He hardly ever talked to his family about Ruth," Theodore said.

Associated Press


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Thursday, February 28, 2013

No Doubt Cancel Tour So They Can Work On New Music: Morning Mix

Did You Hear?

:: Some bittersweet news for No Doubt fans as the band has canceled their upcoming tour. But, it?s supposedly because they?re feeling ?inspired to write new music? and will spend their time in the studio instead of on the road. [No Doubt]

:: A$AP Rocky talked style and music in his spread with high-end?men?s fashion journal Mr. Porter. The fashionable Harlem rapper revealed he once wanted to be a model. He?s already been in an Alexander Wang ad, so, close enough, right? [Miss Info]

:: Chris Brown says he wouldn?t mind working with Elton John. Apparently Elton has been somewhat of a moral support system for Breezy in the wake of his assault of Rihanna. Hey, it?s worth a shot: Eminem shed his homophobic shell after Elton collaborated with him. [New York Post]

:: Nick Lachey is readying a new lullaby album (with an adorable cover featuring the 98 Degrees star and his baby son, Camden). The album was inspired by his newborn son, and will hit stores March 13. [Reuters]

:: Wynonna Judd?and Kellie Pickler have joined the cast of Dancing With The Stars. The country singers will compete in the show?s sixteenth (!) season, which premieres March 18. [Wynonna Judd]

After the jump, find out which music acts you can catch on TV today.

Music On TV:

:: Late Show with David Letterman (CBS) ? Solange
:: Tonight Show with Jay Leno (NBC) ??Father John Misty
:: Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC) ? Gold Fields
:: Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (NBC) ? Jason Aldean


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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

National Day of Unplugging Starts at Home | Zillow Blog

craftsman dining room

A new trend is trickling into real estate decisions, but it?s not just a popular shade of paint or pattern of wallpaper. People around the world are choosing to ?unplug? their digital lives and, in the process, redefine the home.

?When people are looking at a house, they are not thinking, ?Where can I plug in my iPhone?? Dreaming about a home is really based around family,? said Tanya Schevitz, communications coordinator at Reboot,?a think-tank of sorts behind the unplugging movement and other projects inspired by Jewish traditions. ?It?s about envisioning a more relaxed family life that isn?t ?turned on? all the time.?

This Friday marks the fourth annual National Day of Unplugging, a 24-hour hiatus from technology started by Reboot. The group formed in 2002 when founder Dan Rollman was gazing at a sunset in Park City, UT and said to himself, ?I never do this. I never take time to enjoy my surroundings.?

Fast-forward to today, and hundreds of thousands of people from San Francisco to Venezuela and Mumbai are stepping away from their digital devices for the sole purpose of recharging themselves.

?It?s a zeitgeist of living in the moment,? Schevitz said. ?We?re not saying you have to unplug for 24 hours?? just be more aware of your use.?

Schevitz and others have taken a pledge to ditch technology from sundown to sundown March 1-2, but the day promotes a prevailing lifestyle change. As a Silicon Valley-based mom, Schevitz knows this is easier said than done, yet she?s convinced that once you start to unplug, you?ll look at your house differently.

Without any major renovations, Schevitz has refocused spaces in her apartment to help her family spend time together without digital distractions.

The key? Setting guidelines for yourself. Check out these five tips for unplugging your home:

1. Bring back books and board games

rustic home office
Schevitz focuses on getting back to the basics with her family. ?While everything is whirling around you, your home is your respite,? she said. ?If you can sit and surround yourself with books and unplugged activities, life slows down.?

But kids today are so plugged in that it can be hard to compete. For a fun, kid-friendly unplugged idea, check out this bookshelf with a built-in pulley system:

contemporary home office

2. Remove TVs from the bedroom

craftsman master bedroom

It might sound harsh, but Schevitz is a stickler on this one. While both she and her husband own laptops for work, they have reserved their?bedroom as a quiet escape.

?My husband is always saying we should sit around and read together and turn on classical music,? she said. ?It brings a sense of peace in life.?

Kids? rooms are also a common location for game consoles and gadgets. The contemporary kids? bedroom below provides a compelling alternative with built-in drawers for storing unplugged games and toys.

contemporary kids bedrooms

3. Spend time in the kitchen

craftsman kitchen
Schevitz has friends who have ditched their microwaves for good. While she hasn?t gone that far, she?s an advocate for cooking without modern appliances when possible.

?My son and I love to bake together,? she explained. ?We love to get our hands in the dough without an electric mixer. It?s a bonding experience ? popping something in the microwave is not.?

But what about contemporary homes with the latest cooking appliances already built in?

Schevitz admits the idea of having a completely unplugged house means you have to put more effort into undoing the amenities we?ve become accustomed to. But she argues that you are making your life fuller in the long run.

For inspiration, here?s a kitchen that has maintained an updated look and feel without electric appliances:

traditional kitchen

4. Dine in the dining room

contemporary dining room

Juggling her family?s busy schedule, Schevitz knows it?s hard to find time to sit and eat a meal together?? especially without glancing at your smartphone.

?The expectation that people must be reachable all the time has created a society where people are on edge,? she said. ?It starts to affect your relationships because they don?t feel like they are a priority.?

She thinks it?s doable to have dinner completely unplugged. ?I can sit down with my family and pause and really enjoy it,? she explained.

Try designating a space in your home just for meal times to avoid eating in front of the TV or computer.

5. Use your imagination

contemporary great room
Schevitz?s boys don?t have any beeping toys. She remembers buying her son a coffee maker because he loves to help her husband make his coffee in the morning.

?It makes no noises,? she explained. ?He has to use his imagination to make them.?

And, imagination seems to be a big part of the National Day of Unplugging. Its website shows people from around the world who have sent in photos saying ?I unplug to_________.?

How would you fill in the blank? Play a life-size game of chess? Take a nap?
art deco playroom
Reboot is commemorating the day with device-free events in San Francisco and Los Angeles centered around music, arts and relaxation. A student group at the University of California Berkeley is going on a hike.

Schevitz says the goal is to bring people together.?Recalling an ?unplugged party? she hosted for Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife, she argues:??Hey, if the founder of Google can do it, anyone can.?



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Insight: Syria rebels bolstered by new arms but divisions remain

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels have received advanced weapons aimed at narrowing the arms gap with President Bashar al-Assad's forces and reinforcing a new rebel military command which Western countries hope can dilute the strength of Islamist fighters.

Several rebel commanders and fighters told Reuters that a shipment which reached Syria via Turkey last month comprised shoulder-held and other mobile equipment including anti-aircraft and armor-piercing weapons, mortars and rocket launchers.

Rebels told Reuters the weapons, along with money for cash payments for fighters, were being distributed through a new command structure, part of a plan by foreign backers to centralize control over rebel units and check Islamists linked to al-Qaeda. However, in a sign of the difficulty in uniting disparate fighting groups, some rebels said they had turned down the arms and refused to submit to the new command.

While not nearly enough to tip the military balance against Assad, who is able to deploy air power, missiles and artillery to devastating effect against rebel areas, any significant arms shipment is a boost to rebels who have long complained about the lack of international support.

The rebels refused to specify who supplied the new weapons, saying they did not want to embarrass foreign supporters, but said they had arrived openly via Turkey "from donor countries".

"We have received this shipment legally and normally. It was not delivered through smuggling routes but formally through Bab al-Hawa crossing," said a rebel commander in Homs province, referring to a rebel-held crossing with Turkey.

"But it is not enough to help us win," he told Reuters by Skype. "Another shipment has arrived in Turkey but we haven't received it yet," he added, saying he believed foreign donors were waiting for the Syrian opposition to form a transitional government to work with the rebel command.

The political opposition will meet in Istanbul on Saturday to choose a prime minister in the transitional government, which is also supposed to choose a civilian defense minister - creating the basic structure for a future state and army.

The Syrian revolt erupted nearly two years ago, starting with peaceful protests for reform but developing into an armed insurgency and then civil war as Assad responded to the uprising with ever-growing force. The United Nations estimates that 70,000 people have been killed in the relentless violence.

Although many countries backed Assad's opponents, few have actively supported arming the rebels, fearing that weapons might end up in the hands of hardline Sunni Muslim militants and lead to a repeat of Western conflicts, such as the wars against the Taliban in Afghanistan and al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Iraq.

So far rebels have relied mainly on light weapons smuggled from neighboring countries, many of them financed or sent from sympathizers in Gulf states, and from supplies seized from captured army bases inside Syria.

But video footage and pictures from across the country appear to support assertions that advanced weapons - with origins as varied as the former Yugoslavia and China - have ended up in rebel hands.

A Reuters photographer in Damascus over the last month saw several Western-built rebel firearms- including U.S. pattern M4 and Austrian Steyr assault rifles - that almost certainly came from outside the country.


Assad's strongest regional supporter has been Shi'ite Muslim Iran, while the leading campaigners for arming the rebels are the Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab powers Qatar and Saudi Arabia, reflecting the strong sectarian currents of the Syrian uprising.

Although Saudi Arabia and Qatar do not discuss specific weapons shipments to the rebels, both countries have been open about their support for arming them in principle.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal bluntly told a news conference in Riyadh on February 12: "My country believes that the brutality of the Syrian regime against its own people requires empowering the people to defend itself."

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani said last week: "As there is no clear international opinion to end the crisis in Syria...we are supporting the opposition with whatever it needs, even if it takes up arms for self-defense."

Western countries have been more cautious, and have so far committed publicly to sending only "non-lethal" aid, like radios and body armor.

International powers are alarmed by the growing influence of Islamist hardliners in a country which lies at the crossroads of the Middle East between Iraq, Israel, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. They have made efforts to unite Syrian rebels under a clear leadership. A body was formed in December to bring the rebel units, or brigades, together under a unified command.

"One of the reasons for the change in the donors' minds is that they want to empower the new military command. They want to help it organize the weapons and the fighters," said an aide to a rebel commander in a province which has seen some of the heaviest fighting.

"If the brigades join then they get their share of these weapons and also monthly payment for the fighters."

The new military command divides Syria into five fronts - southern, western, eastern, northern and central.

"Each front has received its share. All equally distributed," the rebel said, adding that 'payment' for the weapons would come in the form of post-conflict reconstruction contracts in Syria awarded to countries that helped.

"So basically it's like we have paid in advance. It is funded by the countries that will be involved in reconstruction of Syria," he said.

But in a sign of the continued divisions among Assad's foes, some rebels complain that the "military councils" who received the weapons - and are seen by the West as more likely allies than the hardline Islamists - were the wrong groups to arm.

"There is a dispute in Damascus. The people who received these weapons are not the real fighters. They gave it to the military council which is not fighting," said a rebel commander operating around the Syrian capital. "We are the ones that are on the frontline and we are the fighters."

He said his fighters had rejected an offer of weapons in return for their allegiance to the military councils.

"There was a meeting and they asked for our brigade to join so they will give us between 10 to 20 rockets and armor-piercing ammunition and other stuff," he said. "They wanted everything to be under their supervision, but we refused."

"They are giving these weapons to people to allow them to create a (fighting) presence on the ground. Why don't they give it to people who already have a presence?"

Another commander said he would have no qualms about seizing weapons destined for rebels nominally fighting on the same side as him, if he knew they were passing through his territory.


Several fighters from across the country who spoke to Reuters in February said they feared the ultimate plan of outside powers was to push the rebel Free Syrian Army and other "moderate" Islamist fighters into confrontation with radicals.

Fighters from hardline groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham have waged some of the deadliest attacks in Syria, including car bombings in Damascus, Aleppo and elsewhere. Their ranks have been swollen by jihadi fighters from around the Muslim world.

The chief of staff of the rebel military command, Brigadier Selim Idris, said the presence of foreign fighters was hindering international support for the battle against Assad.

"We call all brothers from all the countries. Please, my brothers: we do not need men. Stay in your own countries and do something good inside your own countries," he told Reuters.

"If you want to help us just send us weapons or funding - or even pray for us. But you do not have to come to Syria. We have enough Syrian men fighting."

Idris denied receiving weapons from donors and said that weapons are still entering Syria through the black market - apparently reluctant to put foreign powers in the spotlight.

"We are not receiving weapons from the Europeans, we do not want to embarrass them, we do not want to embarrass anyone with the weapons issue," he said.

Previous attempts to unify Syria's divided rebels have foundered on local rivalries and competition for money and influence. Some have grown rich and powerful by smuggling weapons, medical supplies, food and diesel, while the lack of civil administration in rebel controlled areas has also encouraged the proliferation of autonomous rebel groups.

Seeking to address those divisions, the military councils hope to pay fighters a symbolic monthly salary of $100, funded in part by donations from the Gulf. The Homs commander said one Gulf state had recently paid $15 million towards their wages.

"They want to organize the rebels and have them all under one command - who joins will be eligible to receive the money and the weapons," he said. "This is all for organization purposes."

"If a brigade joins then it will take its share, if it doesn't, then no weapons. We want to be organized," he said.

(Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff)


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