The US has announced it will double its assistance to the Syrian opposition and expand its nonlethal aid. Secretary of State John Kerry said the assistance would be channeled through the rebels’ supreme military command.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that the United States would double its assistance to the Syrian opposition to $250 million (191.4 million euros) total and expand its nonlethal military supplies to rebel fighters.
Kerry made the announcement in a statement issued after talks among the pro-opposition "Friends of Syria" group in Istanbul.
Kerry said the new nonlethal military supplies would go beyond the current provisions of food rations and medical kits. He did not elaborate, however.
"This conflict is now spilling across borders and is now threatening neighboring countries," Kerry told a news conference after the talks. "This bloodshed needs to stop."
"The president directed me to step up our efforts," he said, adding: "Today it is safe to say we are at a critical moment."
According to a release, the State Department would work with the rebels to determine how the new assistance would be spent.
Kerry calls for more international aid
The types of new nonlethal military aid would be "determined in collaboration with SMC (the rebel Supreme Military Council) leadership," the statement read.
Kerry also urged international donors to make similar pledges with the goal of reaching $1 billion in total international support for the opposition.
He also announced an additional $25 million in food assistance to help people inside Syria and refugees in Jordan. This aid will be distributed by the UN's World Food Program.
Opposition rejects terrorism
At the meetings, Syria's main opposition National Coalition said it firmly rejected "all forms of terrorism" and vowed that any weapons it attains would not fall into the wrong hands.
Western powers have expressed concern that supplying Syrian rebels with weapons would worsen the conflict with the arms possibly reaching radical Islamists. However, Britain and France are pushing to modify the European Union's arms embargo on Syria to allow arming rebel forces. Germany has expressed concerns that the move would lead to further bloodshed.
"The new democratic Syria has to be a country where all population groups and religions have a place," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told the Istanbul meeting.
According to the UN, the war - which began as peaceful protests that turned violent when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad tried to crush the revolt - has claimed more than 70,000 lives. Internal displacement stands at 4.25 million people, and an additional 1.3 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
Hagel in the Middle East
Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday began his first Mideast visit as Pentagon chief, with planned stops in Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Hagel will discuss a set of $10 billion in arms deals with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The deals, yet to be finalized, will provide the countries with a range of weaponry, including aircraft and missiles.
Hagel is also expected to hold talks with Israeli leaders on Syria's civil war and Iran's nuclear program.
hc/av (AFP, AP, Reuters)
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