Many Syrians opposed to the goverment of Bashar al-Assad live outside the country [EPA]

The US government has secretly funded Syrian opposition groups, including a London-based television station, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks to The Washington Post.

The newspaper reported on Monday that the US state department has channelled up to $6m since 2006 to a group of Syrian exiles to operate Barada TV, and to finance activities inside Syria.

The television station is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles, the paper said, and has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria.

It added that US money for Syrian opposition groups began under George Bush, the former US president, after ties with Damascus were frozen in 2005.

The financial backing has continued under Barack Obama, the current president, despite an attempt by his administration to rebuild relations with the Middle Eastern nation.

The article said it was unclear whether Washington was still funding Syrian opposition groups, but the cables
indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010.

Cables provided by WikiLeaks revealed some US diplomats questioning the decision to provide funding, saying that Syrian authorities "would undoubtedly view any US funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change".

"A reassessment of current US-sponsored programming that supports ... factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive," the cable said.

Protests calling for political reform and challenging the government of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, erupted on March 15.

The uprising has claimed the lives of scores of people, with human rights groups saying that at least 200 people have been killed.

Syrian authorities have blamed the violence on armed gangs.

Source: Agencies