GENEVA: The United States has restarted deliveries of nonlethal aid to the Syrian opposition, officials said Monday, more than a month after Islamist militias seized warehouses and prompted a sudden cutoff of Western supplies to the rebels.
The communications equipment and other items are being funneled for now only to non-armed opposition groups, said the U.S. officials.
But the move nevertheless boosts Syria’s beleaguered rebels, who saw their international support slide after they proved unable to defend bases near the Turkish border.
The U.S. officials, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the aid was being sent through Turkey into Syria, with the coordination of the rebel Free Syrian Army’s Supreme Military Council, led by Gen. Salim Idris.
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 have since been returned, the officials said, and U.S.-supported rebel groups have taken steps to prevent future supplies from being diverted.
Direct, nonlethal U.S. aid to armed Syrian rebel units could resume soon, U.S. officials said. They provided no indication about the status of lethal assistance.
Britain also suspended deliveries some six weeks ago and Turkey shut its side of the border as fears over the growing strength of Islamist extremists, crystallized in the takeover of the warehouses and bases by the Islamic Front, an alliance of seven powerful Islamist rebel groups.
Both parties denied that the incident was a hostile act – they said the Front came to the FSA’s aid after it was unable to defend the depots from militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.
Nonetheless, it was a stark demonstration of how Idris’ influence has diminished amid the rise of militants flush with cash, weapons and battleground experience.
The U.S. 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.