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U.S. considers direct aid to Syrian rebels

Syrians ride a scooter down a destroyed street, hit by the  shelling by the Syrian government forces in the town of Maarat al-Nuaman on Tuesday. Syrian rebels battled government troops near a landmark 12th century mosque in the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday.

Associated Press

Syrians ride a scooter down a destroyed street, hit by the shelling by the Syrian government forces in the town of Maarat al-Nuaman on Tuesday. Syrian rebels battled government troops near a landmark 12th century mosque in the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is moving toward a major policy shift on Syria that could provide the rebels with equipment such as body armor, armored vehicles and possible military training, and could send humanitarian assistance directly to Syria's opposition political coalition, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing unnamed U.S. and European officials.

The administration has not provided direct aid to either the military or political side of the opposition throughout the two-year old Syrian conflict, and U.S. officials remain opposed to providing weapons to the rebels.

Elements of the proposed policy, which officials cautioned have not yet been finalized, are being discussed by Secretary of State John Kerry in meetings this week and next with allies in Europe and the Middle East as part of a coordinated effort to end the bloody stalemate that has claimed 70,000 lives.

The outcome of those talks, and a nearly two-hour meeting in Berlin on Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and a Thursday conference with allies and leaders of the Syrian Opposition Coalition in Rome, is expected to weigh heavily in administration deliberations.

Kerry has made repeated indirect references to a policy shift during his travels. He told a group of German students Tuesday that while the United States wants a "peaceful resolution" in Syria, if its leaders refuse to negotiate and continue to kill citizens, "then you need to at least provide some kind of support" for those fighting for their rights.

On Monday in London, he said: "We are not coming to Rome simply to talk. We're coming … to make decisions about next steps."

Opposition political leaders had threatened to boycott the Rome meeting, but they were persuaded to attend after telephone calls in which Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden said substantive proposals would be on the table.

The pending shift to a more active role comes as the administration and its partners backing the opposition, including Britain, France and countries in the region, have concluded that there is little immediate chance for a negotiated political settlement to the conflict with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

'New low' in fighting

Syrian government forces struck the city of Aleppo last week with ballistic missiles, representing what a Human Rights Watch report on Tuesday called "a new low" in the civil war. Three Scud missiles struck residential areas of Aleppo, and a fourth landed in the nearby town of Tal Rifaat, killing a total of at least 141 people, the report said. The Syrian government denied this week that it is using Scuds in its battle to crush the revolt against President Bashar Assad.

U.S. considers direct aid to Syrian rebels 02/26/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 11:18pm]

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