U.S. plans medical, food aid for Syrian rebel fighters: sources

Wed Feb 27, 2013 8:26pm EST
 
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By Arshad Mohammed and Khaled Yacoub Oweis

ROME (Reuters) - The United States plans to provide medical supplies and food to Syrian fighters, a policy shift to directly help those battling President Bashar al-Assad's forces on the ground, sources familiar with the matter said.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States continues to oppose providing lethal assistance and said it also will not provide such items as bullet-proof vests, armored-personnel vehicles and military training for now.

One source said the United States was also expected to announce a large increase in assistance to the Syrian National Coalition, the main civilian opposition group.

The announcements could come as early as Thursday in Rome, where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet coalition members at a "Friends of Syria" meeting of mostly European and Arab nations supporting the opposition.

The steps would reflect a U.S. desire to do more to help the opposition in the conflict, in which an estimated 70,000 people have died since protests against Assad erupted nearly two years ago, while stopping far short of a full-blown military intervention, for which Washington appears to have no appetite.

The moves, however, might not satisfy some members of the Syrian National Coalition, which last week said it would boycott the conference out of frustration at not receiving more assistance and only agreed to come on Monday.

COALITION SOURCE DISMISSIVE

A coalition source said the planned U.S. steps were a continuation of what he described as an American policy of wanting "no winners, no losers" in the conflict.   Continued...

 
Members of the Free Syrian Army walk with their weapons in Deir el-Zor February 26, 2013. Picture taken February 26, 2013. REUTERS/Ammar Iessa /Shaam News Network/Handout