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US offers Syrian rebels $60 million of new aid

US Secretary of State John Kerry has offered an extra $60 million of aid to rebels in Syria, including "non-lethal" supplies such as food and medicine.

John Kerry in RomeEnlarge
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for a meeting of the 'Friends of the Syrian People (FOSP) Ministerial' group on February 28, 2013 in Rome. (ALBERTO PIZZOLI /AFP/Getty Images)

The United States has offered to give the Syrian opposition $60 million in new aid, including "non-lethal" supplies such as food and medicine for the first time.

Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement at a Friends of Syria meeting in Rome, where several Western governments have promised to ramp up assistance to the Syrian opposition.

In what the Associated Press called "a significant policy shift," Kerry said Washington would more than double its aid to Syria's civilian opposition to help it govern rebel-controlled areas.

"Given the stakes," Kerry said, the United States will also make food and medical supplies available to the military council that represents the Free Syrian Army – the first time Washington has offered direct assistance to rebel fighters.

However, Kerry's offer "fell short of rebel demands" for arms, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, as well as the alternative military assistance – body armor, armored vehicles, training – some had speculated would be on the table, Reuters reported.

Western and Arab countries may go further, however, when they meet with leading opposition bloc the Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul next week. One European diplomat told Reuters that the SNC's allies would discuss providing "military and humanitarian support."

The US pledge has been met with skepticism inside Syria.

"America is planning and bluffing the world with statements many know they will not adhere to it," said one activist from Ariha who asked not to be named. "When has America committed to its promises?"

The university student, who studied in Aleppo before the revolution suspended has education, said little of the money received through the Syrian National Council, based outside of the country, reaches the fighters on the ground.

"Strange is the revolution in Syria," he said. "Fighters suffer a shortage of weapons and gear while the Syrian National Coalition receives support and funds from Western capitals."

Khalid Soliman, an FSA fighter from Hama said he also held doubts regarding how much support the US would give the Syrian opposition.

"I want you to realize, no one wants to help Syrians," he said. "Only Syrians help Syria. This we have learned very well."

Britain in particular has been pushing its European partners to relax the arms embargo on Syria to allow military equipment to flow to the rebels. Foreign Secretary William Hague has said the UK is determined to "ramp up" aid and would soon announce new assistance, the BBC reported.

Time wrote that Britain, France and Italy weren't planning to supply the Free Syrian Army with weapons. However, Britain and France were "keen to give the rebels the means to protect themselves from attacks by Assad's forces, including Scud missiles fired in recent days against the city of Aleppo."

The Friends of Rome in a statement today pledged "more political and material support" for the SNC and to get "concrete assistance" in Syria, Al Jazeera reported.

"The US and all the countries represented here believe the Syrian opposition coalition can successfully lead the way to a peaceful transition, but they cannot do it alone... they need more support from all of us," Kerry said.

More from GlobalPost: Kerry signals greater US support for Syrian resistance

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/syria/130228/syria-assad-US-military-support-weapons-rebels