In a policy shift, the United States on Thursday announced plans to channel non-lethal assistance directly to Syrian rebels in the battlefield rather than through non-governmental agencies.
“The simple fact is (Syrian President Bashar) Assad cannot shoot his way out of this,” Secretary of State John Kerry said when the aid package was announced at a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Rome. “For more than a year the U.S. and our partners who have gathered here in Rome have called on Assad to heed the voice of the Syrian people and halt his war machine. Instead what we have seen is his brutality increase.”
The aid will include $60 million to assist the Syrian Opposition Coalition communities in liberated areas of Syria expand the delivery of basic goods and services, including security, sanitation and educational services.
The U.S. will also send “technical advisers” to support opposition staff in Egypt and work with the movement’s military arm to provide non-lethal support to the Free Syrian Army, including things like military rations and medical supplies to tend the sick and the wounded.
Despite widespread pledges of support from western and Arab states, the main Syrian opposition coalition says it has still not seen any significant increase in funding or arms supplies.
Members of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, formed in November, say that there is still no sign of western capitals relaxing their ban on delivering weapons to the rebels and even Gulf Arab governments, which helped arm opposition groups last year, are supplying less each week.
“The supplies are drying up. It is still Syrian expats - individuals - who are providing the funding by and large,” said a Syrian businessman who has helped fund the opposition since the uprising began 22 months ago.
As a result, he said, the fragmented rebel forces have given up hopes of a sweep through the country and are focusing instead on a gradual war of attrition: besieging isolated government military bases to stop the regime using planes and helicopters against them and ultimately to capture weapons, to compensate for the meagre supplies from abroad
Foreign Secretary William Hague has said the UK has decided to recognise the Syrian opposition coalition.
He told MPs the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was the “sole legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.
He said they were now a “credible” alternative to the Assad government.
In the absence of a diplomatic solution, he told MPs the UK would not rule out any action - subject to international law - to save lives.
Up to 30,000 people have been killed in the 18-month conflict, the UK believes.
Those trying to bring down President Bashar al-Assad’s government moved closer to a united front when the rival leaders of Syria’s rebels formed the coalition after months of bitter division.
French President François Hollande recognised Syria’s newly formed opposition coalition as the country’s sole legitimate representative during a press conference on Tuesday, making France the first European country to do so.
France broke ranks with its European allies on Tuesday by officially recognising Syria’s new opposition coalition and said it would consider arming the rebels once they created a government in waiting.
Syrian opposition groups struck a deal in Doha on Sunday to form a broad coalition to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad after 20 months of an uprising against his rule.