Dale Gavlak
and Jamal Halaby

AMMAN, JORDAN: Mideast powers opposed to President Bashar Assad have dramatically stepped up weapons supplies to Syrian rebels in coordination with the United States in preparation for a push on the capital of Damascus, officials and Western military experts said Wednesday.

A carefully prepared covert operation is arming rebels, involving Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, with the United States and other Western governments consulting, and all parties hold veto power over where the shipments go, according to a senior Arab official whose government is participating. His account was corroborated by a diplomat and two military experts.

The Arab official said the number of arms airlifts has doubled in the past four weeks. He did not provide exact figures on the flights or the size of the cargo. Jordan opened up as a new route for the weapons late last year, amid U.S. worries that arms from Turkey were going to Islamic militants, all four told the Associated Press in separate interviews. Jordan denies helping funnel weapons to the rebels.

The two military experts, who closely follow the traffic, said the weapons include more powerful, Croatian-made anti-tank guns and rockets than the rebels have had before.

The Arab official said there was a “master plan” for the rebels to seize Damascus. He and the diplomat spoke on condition that their identities and their nationalities not be disclosed because the operation was covert.

“The idea is that the rebels now have the necessary means to advance from different fronts — north from Turkey and south from Jordan — to close in on Damascus to unseat Assad,” the Arab official said. He declined to provide details, but said the plan is being prepared in stages and will take “days or weeks” for results.

Rebels have captured suburbs around Damascus but have been largely unable to break into the heavily guarded capital.