Obama administration has resumed nonlethal aid to Syrian rebels

The Obama administration confirmed Wednesday that it has resumed delivery of nonlethal aid and equipment to rebel-held ­areas of Syria that had been suspended when Islamist forces raided a U.S. warehouse last year.

Ambulances, garbage trucks, generators, school supplies and office equipment, among other items, are being delivered to civilian local governments and charity groups, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

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“These deliveries are helping those local groups provide essential services for the Syrian people and counter violent extremists,” she said.

The resumption of Western supplies is partly a reward to the Syrian opposition for participation in peace talks over the past week in Switzerland, and an indirect show of support for rebel forces embarrassed by the capture of bases that had been under the authority of a U.S.-backed rebel leader.

The capture illustrated the surging strength of al-Qaeda-linked militants, some funded by Persian Gulf nations that have been sharply critical of U.S. policy on Syria, and the slip in battlefield influence of the American rebel favorite Gen. Salim Idriss.

Most of the looted aid has been returned, Psaki said.

The United States hopes to also soon resume direct assistance to the Supreme Military Council,
an umbrella rebel coordinating body, pending further work to resolve security and logistical issues, Psaki said. She did not elaborate.

Psaki stressed that the aid is “nonlethal,” meaning items that can support the rebel forces but that are not weapons. She refused to comment on ammunition, body armor and other direct battlefield supplies.

The White House approved limited shipment of small arms and other weaponry through the CIA last year, U.S. officials said at the time. Members of Congress raised serious concerns about the CIA plan to arm and train rebels in Jordan, and the program was delayed.

The Reuters news service reported this week that the administration overcame those objections and that lawmakers had approved some funding in classified defense appropriations legislation.

Also Wednesday, the State Department did not deny a Reuters report that the Syrian government has so far given up less than 5 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal under a landmark deal reached last year. The eradication effort is behind schedule, and Syrian cooperation is to be a topic of discussion Thursday at a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

 
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