Kerry says US to 'empower' Syria rebels

Washington will work to "empower" the Syrian opposition short of supplying arms, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday, as his Saudi counterpart stressed the right of Syrians to self-defence.

The United States will continue to work with its "friends to empower the Syrian opposition," Kerry told reporters in Riyadh during a joint press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

Asked about reports of arms being sent to the rebels from countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Kerry replied: "The moderate opposition has the ability to make sure that the weapons are getting to them and not to the wrong hands."

However, he added, "there is no guarantee that one weapon or another might not fall in the wrong hands."

The US has so far refused to arm rebels locked in a two-year war against President Bashar al-Assad's loyalists.

Prince Saud meanwhile insisted that the "Syrian people have the legitimate right to defend themselves against the regime's killing machine."

Several oil-rich monarchies of the GCC, notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have supported the rebellion inside Syria against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, a staunch ally of their regional arch-foe Iran.

Both countries have openly called for arming the rebels.

In October, the New York Times said that discouraged by lack of US support, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have stopped short of arming Syrian rebels with the heavier weapons that could turn the tide of the war.

The only exception was an arms shipment reported last week by the New York Times, which said weapons bought by Saudi Arabia in Croatia were delivered to Syrian rebels through Jordan in December.

Kerry, who flew in to the Saudi capital late on Sunday after a two-day trip to Cairo, kicked off with an early morning meeting with several Gulf foreign ministers, an AFP correspondent said.

A US State Department official told reporters that Kerry would also hold talks in Riyadh with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, with a lunch meeting planned.

After winding up the Saudi leg of his tour later Monday, Kerry will head to Abu Dhabi and later to Qatar.