As Syria’s opposition forces and their main international allies meet in Istanbul, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has announced that the US will double its non-lethal military aid to Syria’s rebels.
The US$123 million defense aid package was announced by Kerry at the meeting in the Turkish capital on Sunday. The Secretary of State said the new non-lethal military supplies would go beyond the current provisions of food rations and medical kits, but did not elaborate.
“We want to see the coalition lead the way by ramping up its ability in order to be able to provide assistance, deliver services and respond to the needs of the Syrian people,” Kerry said.
He added that the Syrian opposition and foreign backers have agreed that all future aid to rebels will be channeled through opposition’s supreme military command.
The Syrian National Coalition said it firmly rejected “all forms of terrorism” and vowed to guarantee that any weapons it receives will not “fall into wrong hands.”
This comes after German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stressed that the Syrian opposition must distance itself from “terrorist and extremist” forces.
Since February the US has shipped food and medical supplies to the Free Syrian Army, which has so far cost an estimated US$117 million, according to the White House.
President Obama has said he has no plans to send weapons or give lethal aid to the rebels, despite pressure from congress and some of his advisors.
Before leaving Washington Kerry said that the aim of the meeting in Istanbul was to get the Syrian opposition and prospective donors“on the same page” over how Syria would be governed after Assad is toppled or if he leaves power of his own accord.
Meanwhile on Saturday Syrian opposition called on it’s international supporters to deploy drones in Syria and carry out “surgical strikes” on launch sites used by government forces.
“It is the moral imperative of the international community, led by the Friends of Syria, to take specific, precise and immediate action to protect Syrian civilians from the use of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons,” the Coalition said in a statement.
Britain and France are pushing for the European Union arms embargo on Syria to be modified when it expires at the end of May. But Germany and the Netherlands are against the change, because they fear it would lead to further bloodshed. US officials have said they support testing the lifting of the arms embargo.
John McCain, one of the top Republicans on the Senate armed services committee, wants to see US airstrikes on Syrian government aircraft and weapons but is against sending in American ground troops.
The Friends of Syria also issued a statement Saturday criticizing Russia for its stance on Syria, and said Moscow doesn’t understand the way history is unfolding in the Middle East.
“Russia is looking at things through a narrow, military point of view and doesn’t appreciate the deep historical changes, which are taking place as a result of the Arab Spring,” said the Friends of Syria in a statement.
Kerry is due to meet Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, on the sidelines of a Nato-Russia Council meeting.
On Friday a spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry Aleksandr Lukashevich said that Russia is urging the ‘Friends of Syria’ group to abstain from pursuing their own ends, and instead, to direct their efforts toward fostering a dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.
The spokesman stressed that Russia supports a “peaceful settlement to the crisis in Syria by means of a country-wide dialogue free of foreign interference and direction.”
In the most recent clashes, Syrian government troops battled rebels in a strategic area of Homs province near the Lebanese border, Saturday.
According to the United Nations, the violence in Syria has now killed more than 70,000 people and despite international pressure Assad has managed to retain power for far longer than those advocating him to stand down expected.