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U.S. Shifts Policy on Syria, Announces Direct Support for Rebels
March 1, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib in Rome February 28.

By Phillip Kurata
IIP Staff Writer
February 28, 2013

The United States has shifted its policy toward Syria by deciding for the first time to send assistance directly to the rebels fighting to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

“We need to stand on the side of those in this fight who want to see Syria rise again in unity and see a democracy and human rights and justice,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at an international conference in Rome February 28. “We can’t risk letting this country, in the heart of the Middle East, be destroyed by vicious autocrats or hijacked by the extremists.” Kerry said the assistance will be nonlethal.

The chairman of the Syrian Opposition Council, Moaz al-Khatib, attended the meeting in Rome, along with representatives from 11 other countries, including Egypt, Turkey and countries in Europe and the Gulf . They all support the downfall of the Assad regime and consider the Syrian Opposition Council the legitimate voice of the Syrian people.

Kerry announced that $60 million in additional U.S. aid will be put directly into the hands of the Syrian opposition leaders to help them strengthen their organizational capacity as well as provide sanitation, food delivery and medical care in areas they control.

Kerry said the Syrian rebels will receive the U.S. aid without delay because part of the money has already been programmed and because members of Congress are ready to allocate more funds to bring about the downfall of Assad.

“Assad cannot shoot his way out of this,” Kerry said.

Kerry said the U.S. contribution to the Syrian rebels is just one part of the assistance package the entire group in Rome is sending to the anti-Assad fighters.

“Different countries are choosing to do different things,” Kerry said. “I am absolutely confident … that the totality of this effort is going to have an impact on the ability of the Syrian opposition to accomplish its goals.”

Washington has provided $385 million in humanitarian relief to Syrian refugees and internally displaced people and $50 million in communication and broadcast equipment to help Syrian rebels communicate with each other and to spread their message throughout the country.

Al-Khatib said the rebel coalition considers the territorial unity of Syria nonnegotiable and will oppose any effort to split the country.

He added: “I am saying here and now, Bashar Assad, you have to behave for once as a human being. Stop killing and massacring this people, arresting and torturing its children. Bashar Assad, you have to adopt at least one wise decision in your life for the future of this country.”

The host of the Rome meeting, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi, said the international community can no longer allow the Assad regime to continue to massacre Syrians.

“They have to stop violence. They have to release political prisoners, and they have to clearly enable a democratic and pluralist Syria with the exiting of Assad,” Terzi said. “The Syrian people will never be left alone.”