The US has offered to give the Syrian opposition $60 million in new aid – including, for the first time, “non-lethal” supplies such as food and medicine.
Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement at a Friends of Syria meeting in Rome, where several Western governments have promised to ramp up their assistance to the Syrian opposition.
In what the Associated Press called “a significant policy shift,” Kerry said Washington would more than double its aid to Syria’s civilian opposition to help it govern rebel-controlled areas.
“Given the stakes,” Kerry said, the US will also make food and medical supplies available to the military council that represents the Free Syrian Army – the first time that Washington has offered direct assistance to rebel fighters.
Yet the US won’t be providing them with arms. Reuters said Kerry’s offer “fell short of rebel demands” for anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, as well as the alternative military assistance – body armor, armored vehicles, training – that some had speculated would be on the table.
Western and Arab countries may go further, however, when they meet with leading opposition bloc the Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul next week. One European diplomat told Reuters that the SNC’s allies would discuss providing “military and humanitarian support.”
The UK in particular has been pushing its European partners to relax the arms embargo on Syria to allow military equipment to flow to the rebels. Foreign Secretary William Hague has said that Britain is determined to “ramp up” aid and would soon announce new assistance, the BBC reported.
Time wrote that Britain, France and Italy weren’t planning to supply the Free Syrian Army with weapons. However, Britain and France were “keen to give the rebels the means to protect themselves from attacks by Assad’s forces, including Scud missiles fired in recent days against the city of Aleppo.”
In a statement, the Friends of Rome today pledged “more political and material support” for the SNC and to get “concrete assistance” in Syria, Al Jazeera reported.
“The US and all the countries represented here believe the Syrian opposition coalition can successfully lead the way to a peaceful transition, but they cannot do it alone… they need more support from all of us,” Kerry said.