Rebels unenthused by new Syrian aid

March 1, 2013 at 2:16 PM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, March 1 (UPI) -- Syrian rebels said a U.S. package of non-lethal aid and the possibility of Britain supplying equipment was insufficient for them to oust President Bashar Assad.

The announcement that the United States would contribute $60 million for non-lethal assistance directly to the rebels -- a first for the United States -- was made Thursday during a "Friends of Syria" meeting in Rome. Some rebel officials attended the meeting while the Syrian National Council, the opposition coalition's largest faction, boycotted the conference over what it said was insufficient support for the rebels by Western countries.

"The way I see it is that this is all nonsense and lies to people who are dying. Anyway, the final word will go to the revolutionaries on the ground," an activist inside Syria told The Wall Street Journal.

Britain was expected to agree to provide combat gear, including body armor, night-vision equipment and military-transport vehicles, to opponents of Assad's regime.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates already provide light weapons to rebels, the Journal said. France and Britain fund local civilian activist and aid councils directly, as well as communications and satellite equipment, and training on their use, just as the United States.

"Nothing has changed, the U.S. position of no arming is crystal clear," SNC spokesman Mohammad Sarmini said. "This has become embarrassing and degrading. The regime's escalation has rendered even our unmet pleas foolish. We used to beg for antiaircraft missiles. What do you ask for to counter Scuds?"

The European Union Thursday amended its arms embargo to Syria to allow non-lethal equipment shipped in to help protect civilians, possibly clearing the way for shipments of some British gear, the Journal said.

Sheik Mouaz al-Khatib, head of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, who stood beside U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as he announced the U.S. aid, originally wasn't going to attend the conference but changed his mind at the behest of U.S.officials, the Journal said.

Speaking after Kerry, al-Khatib charged the international community was more concerned by the Muslim religion of most of the fighters than the atrocities being committed by Assad's forces.

"The media pays more attention to the length of the beards of the fighters than the massacres," Khatib said.

He told representatives of the 11 nations at the Rome conference the Syrian opposition is preparing to appoint the head of an interim government inside Syria and attempted to ally fears of an Islamic government coming to power.

In Syria, meanwhile, scores of new local councils in rebel-held towns are working to get basic necessities -- such as a few hours of electricity and food -- to residents as well as set up courts, police forces and social services, The New York Times said. But civilian leaders said the councils also are trying to wrest power from the armed rebels who have begun claiming control of resources and territories left unattended after local governments fled.

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