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US President Barack Obama authorized the release Thursday of up to $10 million in food and medicine for rebels in Syria, saying the war there had reached a "critical" point.
Obama, who discussed the worsening humanitarian crisis with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the White House Oval Office, said they would be working together to try to improve conditions in Syria and lay the foundations for a political transition.
"Secretary-General Ban and I shared the view that we are at a critical juncture, that it is important for us to bring about an effective political transition that would respect the rights of all Syrians and that, in the interim, it's important for us to try to eliminate some of the carnage that has been taking place directed at civilians and non-combatants," Obama said.
Ban said he had asked Obama "to demonstrate and exercise his stronger leadership in working together with the key partners of the Security Council," where Western powers have been at loggerheads over Syria with Russia and China.
Before hosting Ban, Obama directed the US government to drawdown up to $10 million in "non-lethal commodities and services" to provide food and medical supplies to the Syrian opposition and its military council.
The aid, which will take the form of medical kits and military food rations, had been announced by Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting of the "Friends of Syria" in Rome on February 28, but the amount and means of funding it had not been disclosed at the time.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the funding was in addition to $117 million in non-lethal aid already being provided to the Syrian opposition to help it organize inside the country.
The United States is also providing $385 million in humanitarian aid for the estimated four million people displaced by the conflict inside Syria and the 1.2 million refugees who have fled the country.
But like other western countries, the United States has refused to supply the rebels with weapons, fearing they will fall into the hands of extremists.
In Congress, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Robert Menendez added his voice to growing calls for military aid to the rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
"I believe the time has come to consider providing in some form military aid to the opposition because unless we change the dynamic and put our finger on the scales to change the tipping point, Assad will continue to believe he can hold on to power," he said.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Jones responded that the administration is firm in its belief that a political solution would be the best way to avert further destruction in the country.