Geneva: The US has restarted deliveries of nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition, officials said Monday, more than a month after Al Qaida-linked militants seized warehouses and prompted a sudden cut-off of Western supplies to the rebels.
The communications equipment and other items are being funnelled for now only to non-armed opposition groups, said the US officials.
But the move nevertheless boosts Syria’s beleaguered rebels, who saw their international support slide after Islamic militants seized bases near the Turkish border that had been under the authority of a key US-backed leader.
It could also be seen as a US reward to the opposition for its participation in ongoing peace talks with President Bashar Al Assad’s government in Geneva.
The US officials, who weren’t authorised to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity, said the aid was being sent through Turkey into Syria, with the coordination of the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Council, led by Gen. Salim Idris, a secular-minded, Western-backed moderate.
They stressed that the halt in supplies last month was only a “precautionary measure” until the Obama administration could once again verify the security of aid packages.
Items taken in December from the Bab Al Hawa crossing between Syria and Turkey have since been returned, the officials said, and US-supported rebel groups have taken steps to prevent future supplies from being diverted.
Direct, nonlethal US assistance to armed Syrian rebel units could resume soon, US officials said. They provided no indication about the status of lethal assistance such as body armour and ammunition.
Britain also suspended deliveries some six weeks ago and Turkey shut its side of the border as fears over the growing strength of extremist jihadis crystallised in the takeover of the warehouses and bases by the Islamic Front, a new alliance of six of the most powerful Islamic rebel groups in Syria.
It was a stark demonstration of how Idris’s influence had diminished amid the rise of Al Qaida-affiliated militants flush with cash, weapons and battleground experience.
Syria’s fractured opposition movement has been losing ground militarily for several months as rebel factions turn their guns against each other, undermining the battle to oust Al Assad.
The US officials said they resumed deliveries of a range of goods to civilian actors in Syria as early as late December. These included ambulances, garbage trucks, generators, food baskets, school supplies and office equipment.
The officials the aid is going to local and provincial councils and civil society groups, and the US is confident the deliveries are reaching their intended recipients. They stressed US support for the “moderate armed and unarmed opposition remains steadfast”.