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Still, the opposition fighters have kept up their battle for 17 months, chipping away at government power and penetrating the aura of invincibility that the Assad family dynasty has built up over four decades in power.
Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have pledged funds to aid Syria’s rebels, but there is no clear trail showing how much is reaching the fighters.
U.S. officials are debating whether to step up aid to the rebels, including sending in heavy weaponry, but officials are worried the aid may end up in the hands of Islamic militants who have infiltrated the rebel Free Syrian Army, the American official said.
Former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht, who is now a scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said Friday that the agency has only a handful of operatives working on the Turkish side of the Syrian border, helping allies who want to give the rebels aid identify which groups are legitimate.
The agency has distributed encrypted radios to the rebels to help them coordinate their attacks. Gerecht has called for the White House to initiate a covert CIA operation inside Syria, to help arm the rebels with weaponry able to take down the helicopter gunships menacing Syrian towns.
Even as the government appeared to be reasserting control in the capital after the weeklong rebel assault, the Arab League offered Assad and his family a "safe exit" if he steps down.
Assad, 46, is married with three young children under the age of 13.
"This request comes from all the ... Arab states: Step aside," said Qatari Prime Minister Hamid bin Jassim Al Thani at an Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Doha, Qatar, that concluded at dawn Monday. He urged Syria to form a temporary transitional government to plan for a possible post-Assad era. Makdissi dismissed the offer as "flagrant interventionism."
The Arab League has already suspended Syria’s membership and it is doubtful that Assad will pay much attention to their calls.
Associated Press writers Ben Hubbard in Beirut, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Jovanna Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, and Bradley Klapper and AP security writer Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.
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