February 28, 2013

US boosts aid to Syrian opposition, rebel fighters

Matthew Lee / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at the Foreign Ministry in Paris on Wednesday. The U.S. is moving closer to direct involvement in Syria's civil war with the delivery of non-lethal assistance directly to the rebels fighting President Bashar Assad's regime.

AP

Walid al-Bunni, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, said the Syrian people have every right to feel "bitter" at the world's inaction even while "the scuds rain down on Aleppo" and expressed dissatisfaction with the aid announced by Kerry.

"We would have wished to receive a means with which to protect the innocent civilians dying from the regime's warplanes and scud missiles, but unfortunately, that was not even on the table," he said by telephone from Budapest.

The head of the rebel's Supreme Military Council, Gen. Salim Idris, told Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency before the meeting Thursday that the rebels' needs include anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

"We hope that a decision is reached at the Friends of the Syrian People meeting which will enable us to obtain the weapons we need," the agency quoted Idris as saying. Idris said Assad's regime receives "unlimited" support from Russia and Iran.

Kerry defended the limited U.S. assistance, saying it was just part of what was being offered and that other countries would fill in any gaps. He said he was confident that the "totality" of the aid should be enough to prod Assad to start changing his calculations on remaining in power.

"We're doing this, but other countries are doing other things," he replied, without going into specifics. "I am confident the totality of this effort is going to have an impact on the ability of the Syrian opposition to accomplish its goals." Kerry said Thursday's meeting marked the "beginning of a process that will in fact change his (Assad's) calculation."

Washington has already provided $385 million in humanitarian aid to Syria's war-weary population and $54 million in communications equipment, medical supplies and other nonlethal assistance to Syria's political opposition. The U.S. also has screened rebel groups for Turkey and American allies in the Arab world that have armed rebel fighters.

But until now, no U.S. dollars or provisions have gone directly to rebel fighters, reflecting concerns about forces that have allied themselves with more radical Islamic elements since Assad's initial crackdown on peaceful protesters in March 2011.

The $60 million in new aid to the political opposition is intended to help the opposition govern newly liberated areas of Syria by aiding in the delivery of services and improving rule of law and human rights as well as to blunt the influence of extremists who have made inroads in some places.

The rations and medical supplies for the fighters will be delivered to the military council for distribution only to carefully vetted members of the Free Syrian Army, U.S. officials said.

The U.S. will be sending technical advisers to the Syrian National Coalition offices in Cairo to oversee and help them spend the money for good governance and rule of law. The advisers will be from non-governmental organizations and other groups that do this kind of work.

The foreign ministers' presentation was disrupted by one protester who called on them to "stop supporting terrorists."

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