U.S. approves $250m boosted aid package to Syrian opposition

John Kerry. The supplies could include armored vehicles, night vision goggles and advanced communications equipment. (Reuters)

U.S. aid to the Syrian opposition is set to double to $250 million, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday, adding that Washington would also provide new non-lethal military equipment for rebel fighters.

The announcement came after talks among the pro-opposition “Friends of Syria” group in Istanbul.

But despite the new aid package, the U.S. paid no heed to calls for arms supplies or a direct intervention.

Some of the money will be used to “provide an expanded range of support” to rebel fighters battling President Bashar al-Assad, beyond the current provisions of food rations and medical kits, “to include other types of non-lethal supplies,” the statement said, according to AFP news agency.

The non-lethal military equipment might include providing the opposition fighters with protective battlefield equipment such as body armor, armored vehicles and night-vision goggles, as well as communications gear, U.S. media has reported.

Kerry, who spoke to the press after the meeting, stressed the focus was on the mounting death toll in the crisis-torn country.

“The president directed me to step up our efforts,” Kerry told a news conference.

“The stakes in Syria couldn’t be more clear: chemical weapons, the slaughter of people by ballistic missiles and other weapons of huge destruction, the potential of a whole country,” he said.

“This bloodshed needs to stop.”

The head of the main opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, offered reassurances after the talks.

“Our revolution is for the entire Syrian people. We are not supporting one group at the price of another and we shall never allow that to happen,” he told the news conference.

The Coalition said in a separate statement that the opposition rejected “all forms of terrorism and any extremist ideology” and promised that “weapons will not fall in the wrong hands”.

The opposition had also voiced frustration earlier at the lack of a strong international response.

“Assad is firing missiles against densely populated areas... without consequences,” said Yaser Tabbara, a spokesman for the opposition’s interim prime minister Ghassan Hitto.

“Throwing money at the problem won’t solve it.”

The opposition has called for “surgical strikes” on regime missile batteries used against civilians.

Top diplomats from the 11-nation core group of the “Friends of Syria” -- including the United States, European nations and Arab countries -- took part in the more than six hours of talks on Saturday.

In a joint statement afterwards, they warned Assad that foreign support for the opposition would grow if he continued to rebuff efforts to find a political solution to Syria’s crisis.
 

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Last Update: Sunday, 21 April 2013 KSA 09:06 - GMT 06:06
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