US to give non-lethal aid to rebels in Syria

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The US has said it will for the first time give non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels and more than double its aid to Syria’s civilian opposition.

The Americans will give the aid as a way to bolster the rebels’ popular support. It will include medical supplies, food for rebel fighters and $60 million (£39m)to help the civil opposition provide basic services such as security, education and sanitation.

US secretary of state John Kerry announced the new steps yesterday after a meeting of 11 mostly European and Arab nations within the “Friends of Syria” group in Rome.

At the same meeting, the European Union said it had amended sanctions on Syria to permit the supply of unarmed armoured vehicles, non-lethal military equipment and technical aid to the Syrian opposition, provided they were intended to protect civilians.

The aid did not appear to ­entirely satisfy the Syrian ­National Council opposition, a fractious Cairo-based group that has struggled to gain traction inside Syria, especially among disparate rebel forces.

“Many sides… focus [more] on the length of the rebel fighter’s beard than they do on the blood of the children being killed,” Syrian National Coalition president Moaz Alkhatib said at an appearance with Mr Kerry and Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi.

In what analysts described as a sign of disappointment, Syria’s political opposition has postponed talks to choose the leader of a provisional government.

Opposition leaders hoped a meeting on Saturday in ­Istanbul would elect a prime minister to operate in rebel-controlled areas of Syria, threatened by a slide into chaos as the conflict between the country’s president Bashar 
al-Assad’s forces and insurgents nears its second anniversary.

While one source said the meeting might happen later in the week, a second source said it had been put off because the three most likely candidates for prime minister had reservations about taking the role without more concrete international support.

“The opposition has been increasingly signalling that it is tired of waiting and no-one serious will agree to be head of a government without real ­political and logistical support,” said Syrian political commentator Hassan Bali.