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06/17/2013

Kuwaiti cleric uses Twitter to raise money for Syria's rebels

Screen shot 2013-06-17 at 8.09.52 AM

Rebel fighters rest in a former primary school in the centre of Syria's restive northern city of Aleppo (Bulent Kilic/Getty Images)

Tales of pain and persecution have flowed out of Syria for nearly two years now.

More than 90,000 Syrians have been killed and many thousands more have been critically injured in the fighting between president Bashar Assad's forces and rebels.

The battle has split the developing world. While Russia and China have supported Assad, the U.S. and Canada have largely backed the rebels, emboldened by news earlier this month that Asad's forces have repeatedly used saran gas.

(Canada has rejected the prospect of sending military aid to the rebels. It instead has pledged at least $100 million to help Syria's neighbour Jordan cope with the influx of refugees.)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper scolded Russian President Vladimir Putin for supporting “the thugs of the Assad regime” in Syria in advance of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, the Star's Les Whittington reported Monday.

In some cases, western leaders and intelligence officials have made covert visits to Syria to meet with the rebels and help arm and fund them.

But it turns out there is an easier way for anyone interested to help get weapons into the hands of rebels.

Turn to @hajjajalajmi on Twitter.

Hajjaj al-Ajmi is a Kuwaiti sheik with 262,772 followers, as of Monday morning.

As the Washington Post documents, the young cleric on May 25 wrote to his followers as Syrian rebels fought to hold control of the town of Quasair.

"I hope that we can be a means for helping them and relieving them."

Ajmi gave a phone number for people to call to make donations and asked readers to "kindly spread it." (His tweets are in Arabic but Google's translate functions give a rough translation.)

The Kuwaiti has repeated his call for funds almost every day since then, asking for money "for mujahid," or "holy warriors."

He has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance Syrian rebel groups in a little more than a year, The Post reports.

It's hard to say how much money has flowed into Syria in this fashion.

Most of the money headed to Syria from gulf states such as Kuwait, Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Pakistan, is destined for rebels who are also Sunni Muslims. Cash is also flowing into Syria from Iraq, Iran and Lebanon destined for the Shia government.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

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