LONDON - Saudi Arabia is set to pay the salaries of the rebel Free Syrian Army to encourage mass defections from President Bashar al-Assad's forces, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported on Saturday.
The payments would be made in either US dollars or euros -- which would mean a rise in salaries as the Syrian pound has fallen sharply in value since the revolt started 16 months ago, the broadsheet said.
The idea was first proposed to Saudi Arabia by Arab officials in May, the Guardian reported, citing sources in three Arab states and adding that the plan has also been discussed with US officials.
The Guardian also claims that Turkey has allowed the establishment of a command centre in Istanbul co-ordinating the supply of weapons to the rebel fighters in Syria, staffed by more than 20 mainly Syrian nationals.
The report comes amid a crisis between Turkey and Syria after Damascus confirmed that it shot down a Turkish fighter jet that it said had violated Syrian airspace.
The Guardian said Turkey sees weapon supply lines as crucial to the defence of its border with its former close ally Syria, with Syrian forces edging closer in an attempt to stop guns crossing the border into the hands of rebel fighters.
The Guardian says its reporters witnessed weapons being transferred across border from Turkey into Syria in early June.
On Friday, Ankara denied allegations in a New York Times report, citing US officials and Arab intelligence sources, that Turkey was among a number of countries shipping weapons to Syrian rebels over the border.
"Turkey does not ship weapons to any neighbouring country, including Syria," foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said.
The neighbours' relations are already strained over outspoken condemnation by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Syria's bloody crackdown on protests against Assad's government.
Turkey is hosting more than 30,000 Syrian refugees living in camps near the border, according to foreign ministry figures, as well as army defectors including 12 generals.