US to double aid to Syrian opposition

Funds will be used to provide 'non-lethal' assistance to rebels

IUS secretary of state John Kerry takes part in a ’Friends of Syria’ group meeting  at the Adile Sultan Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. Photograph:  Evan Vucci-Pool/Getty Images

IUS secretary of state John Kerry takes part in a ’Friends of Syria’ group meeting at the Adile Sultan Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. Photograph: Evan Vucci-Pool/Getty Images


US secretary of state John Kerry has announced that the United States would double its aid to the Syrian opposition, providing $123 million in fresh assistance.

Mr Kerry's announcement came at a meeting with foreign ministers from 10 other Western and Middle Eastern nations in Istanbul that was convened to decide how to help the opposition in the Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 70,000.

A portion of the new aid, US officials said, will be used to provide additional "non-lethal" supplies to the military wing of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, an umbrella organisation formed in November to unite the various rebel groups that have been trying to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for two years.

US officials did not specify the items that will be sent, saying that will be determined in consultation with the coalition. But the Obama administration has considered providing items like body armour and night-vision goggles.

"This conflict is now spilling across borders and is now threatening neighboring countries," Mr Kerry said during a news conference he held jointly with Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian opposition coalition, and Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister. "The president directed me to step up our efforts."

A major goal of the meeting here was to buttress the role of moderates within the opposition forces and to isolate extremist groups like the Nusra Front, which the United States has asserted is affiliated with al-Qaeda. That entailed forcing a consensus among supporting nations about how military assistance should be channeled to the rebels.

Toward that end, the foreign ministers decided that all future military assistance would be funneled "exclusively" through the Supreme Military Council, the military wing of the coalition. This procedure is intended to address the concern that some of the opposition's financial backers in Persian Gulf states have been less particular than Western countries about the rebel factions they support.

Another goal was to secure a new commitment from the Syrian opposition coalition that it is prepared to enter into a negotiation over a political transition to a post-Assad Syria, if one can ever be organised, and that a post-Assad government would be a democracy in which the rights of minorities would be protected.

At the end of the meetings, the Syrian opposition coalition issued a declaration stating that it is "aiming at a political solution," rejected extremist ideology, and said that a post-Assad Syria would be pluralistic and based on the rule of law.

During a closed-door session, Gen Salim Idris, head of the opposition's command, gave a presentation to the foreign minister that was intended to show that he had a functioning chain of command and that military aid the Syrian opposition received would be used properly.

The new aid Mr Kerry announced will be in addition to the food rations and medical supplies the United States pledged to provide to the military wing of the Syrian resistance at a conference in late February in Rome. That assistance is scheduled to be provided by April 30th.

With the pledge of fresh aid, the total amount of non-lethal assistance from the United States to the coalition and civic groups inside the country is $250 million. During the meeting , Mr Kerry urged other nations to step up their assistance, with the objective of providing $1 billion in international aid.

New York Times