WASHINGTON, February 28 (RIA Novosti) - The US will send the Syrian opposition an additional $60 million and for the first time, provide rebel forces with direct aid meant to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday.
"For more than a year, the United States and our partners have called on Assad to heed the voice of the Syrian people and to halt his war machine. Instead, what we have seen is his brutality increase," Kerry told reporters in Rome at a global conference of world leaders and after he met with the leader of Syria’s opposition coalition Moaz al-Khatib.
"Given the stakes, the president will now extend food and medical supplies to the Syrian opposition," Kerry said.
The announcement signals a sharp shift in White House policy for the first time since the Syrian regime cracked down on protesters in early 2011 and sparked a civil war.
The US has already provided hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid for security, education, basic goods and services for Syrian citizens in opposition-controlled areas, but until now hasn’t given assistance directly to the rebels.
Now the US will provide fighters with non-lethal aid including food, sanitation and medical supplies – but not the weapons or sophisticated military supplies the rebels have said they need.
It’s a move Kerry said was meant to speed the end of the Assad regime and at the same time limit the influence of radical groups who are also aiding rebel forces.
"We are concerned that we have extremists operating in and among the opposition who don't share the goals of a future Syria that is democratic, that's united, that is just, and that respects the human rights of all Syrians citizens and provides for all of them,” a senior State Department official told NBC News on Thursday.
"I am confident the totality of this effort is going to have an impact on the ability of the Syrian opposition to accomplish its goals," Kerry said.