‘Friends of Syria’ pledge more concrete aide to Syrian opposition

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U.S., European and Arab officials gathered for the “Friends of Syria” meeting in Rome promised on Thursday to provide more concrete assistance to the opposition battling President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

“The ministers pledged more political and material support to the coalition... and to get more concrete assistance inside Syria,” host country Italy said in a statement after the talks between 11 nations and the Syrian opposition.

The statement expressed concern over the “appalling conditions” suffered by Syrian civilians and urged Assad's regime to end “indiscriminate bombardments against populated areas.”

The statement also deplored “the unabated arms supply to the regime by third countries.”

The statement praised the opposition National Coalition for its reform efforts and plans for it to this weekend choose the head of an interim government.

The United States pledged $60 million in “non-lethal” assistance for the Syrian political opposition to as well as the first direct US aid to rebel fighters in the form of food and medical assistance.

“The U.S. will be providing an additional $60 million in non-lethal assistance to support the efforts of the Syrian opposition coalition over the coming months,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said after talks between the 11-nation Friends of Syria and the opposition in Rome.

“We will be sending medical supplies and food to the (rebel) Supreme Military Council, so there will be direct assistance,” he added.

“All Syrians... must know that they can have a future,” Kerry said.

The European Union, meanwhile, said it amended sanctions on Syria to permit the supply of armored vehicles, non-lethal military equipment and technical aid to the Syrian opposition, provided they were intended to protect civilians.

The measure, adopted by EU governments, extends EU sanctions on Syria until June 1 and responds to pressure from Britain and others to ease the EU arms embargo to help opponents of President -Assad.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier said his country and France agreed that Syria must not be allowed to break up but differed on other aspects of the two-year-old conflict,

“Despite the existing differences in the Russia and French positions (on Syria), we are for keeping Syria an integral, democratic state,” Putin told a joint news conference after talks with French President Francois Hollande.

Hollande on his part said that France wanted to see a more open political dialogue on Syria that would “speak to all parties” in the two-year crisis.

“We want political dialogue. We think that this dialogue must find a new form so that it speaks to all parties,” Hollande said, after discussing the crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a visit to Moscow.

Hollande said that while France and Russia both wanted to prevent the break-up of Syria, they had different ideas on how to achieve that.

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