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U.S. grants $123M in nonlethal aid to Syrian rebels

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

ISTANBUL — The United States is providing Syrian rebels with $123 million in new nonlethal aid that hasn't been part of past assistance packages.

The additional money will double the nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition and increase humanitarian aid. The nonlethal aid could include armored vehicles, night vision goggles and advanced communications equipment.

Foreign ministers from the main supporters of the rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad are meeting in Turkey over the weekend to increase pressure on him to step down. The United Nations estimates that the fighting in Syria has killed more than 70,000 people.

“The stakes in Syria couldn't be more clear — chemical weapons, the slaughter of people by ballistic missiles and other weapons of huge destruction, the potential of a whole country ... being torn apart into enclaves, the potential of sectarian violence,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

“This bloodshed needs to stop, and that's what brought us here tonight on Saturday and a very early Sunday morning to talk about the possibilities for peace and transition,” Kerry said at the meeting in Istanbul.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministers said they welcome the Syrian National Coalition's “firm rejection of extremism and its commitment not to use chemical weapons.” They cited those commitments in agreeing to enhance and expand support for all coalition institutions.

The foreign ministers said they recognize the “need to change the balance of power on the ground” and, in looking at the current flow of military assistance, welcome the additional pledges and commitments to further increase the support to the Supreme Military Council. The head of the council provided a military briefing.

Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib said in a statement that “our revolution is for the entire Syrian people.”

Still, the Syrian National Coalition said the limited support, although appreciated, isn't enough.

“We call on the international community to be more forthcoming and unreserved to fulfill its responsibilities in extending support that is needed by the Syrian people,” the coalition said in a statement.

The foreign ministers urged an immediate investigation by the United Nations to substantiate claims that chemical weapons have been used.

“If these allegations are proven to be correct, there will be severe consequences,” they said.

European nations are considering changes to an arms embargo that would allow arms transfers to the Syrian opposition. But European Union action seems unlikely before May, and the new U.S. assistance package falls short of the strongest demands from the Syrian National Coalition — drone strikes to disable Assad's chemical weapon and missile capability; a no-fly zone requiring significant military operations; and a U.N. resolution that condemns Assad for attacks.

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