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Syria rebels hope arms will flow to new fighter command

Syrian opposition rebels hope help from Gulf Arab states will help cause against President Bashar Al-Assad.

Free Syrian Army opposition fighters battle government security forces during the siege of the Shaar district police station in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Picture: AFP.

BEIRUT - Syrian rebels expect greater military help from Gulf Arab states after they announced a new command structure which aims finally to unite President Bashar al-Assad's armed opponents, rebel commanders said on Monday.

Rebel fighters have made gains across the country in the last month, seizing military bases and taking on Assad's better-armed forces on the fringes of his powerbase in Damascus.

Activists said fighting raged on Monday in southern Damascus near the international airport and reported clashes in the northern Damascus districts of Rukneddine and Salhiyeh - the heaviest there since the uprising began 20 months ago.

Despite using more effective battlefield tactics and acquiring more arms, the mainly Sunni Muslim fighters have so far lacked the firepower to deliver a decisive blow to Assad, from the Alawite minority linked to Shi'ite Islam.

Abu Moaz al-Agha, a leader and spokesman of the powerful Gathering of Ansar al Islam which includes many Islamist rebel brigades, said the new, Islamist-dominated military command elected in Turkey over the weekend could change that.

"What we need now is the heavy weapons and we expect to get them after the formation of this. The anti-armour and anti-aircraft weapons are what we are expecting," he told Reuters by Skype from Turkey before heading to the Gulf.

"The Qataris and the Saudis gave us positive promises. We will see what will happen," he said, adding that officials from Western countries, who also attended the meeting in Turkey, had not mentioned arming the rebels but talked about "sending aid".

At least 40,000 people have been killed in Syria's uprising, which started with street protests which were met with gunfire by Assad's security forces, and spiralled into the most enduring and destructive of the Arab uprisings.

Stalemate between major powers, particularly the United States and Russia, has paralysed the wider international response to the violence, leaving regional Sunni Muslim states such as Turkey and the Gulf Arab countries helping the rebels and Shi'ite Iran providing support to Assad.

Washington and Moscow sent their deputy foreign ministers to talks with international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Sunday, but a statement after the meeting showed little sign of breakthrough, although they agreed a political solution was possible in Syria.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle announced on Monday that four Syrian embassy staff were expelled from Berlin, to send a "clear message that (Germany is) reducing relations with the Assad regime to an absolute minimum".

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