U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States will, for the first time, provide direct but nonlethal support to Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Kerry made the announcement in Rome at the end of a "Friends of Syria" meeting, which included the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) as well as European, Turkish, and Arab envoys.
"The United States has decided that -- given the stakes -- the president will now extend food and medical supplies to the opposition, including to the Syrian opposition's Supreme Military Council. So there will be direct assistance to them though nonlethal," Kerry said.
Kerry also announced the United States would give the civilian opposition an additional $60 million to help with governance in the areas under its control.
The new secretary of state, who is on his first foreign trip, said the U.S. decision is meant to increase pressure on Assad, whose forces also enjoy foreign support.
"The United States' decision to take further steps now is the result of the continued brutality of a superior armed force, propped up by foreign fighters from Iran and Hezbollah, all of which threatens to destroy Syria," Kerry said.
Before the meeting, Kerry held talks for the first time with Moaz al-Khatib, who heads the SNC.
Khatib had initially threatened to boycott the Rome conference in protest at "the world's silence" at the violence. He changed his stance after the United States and Britain indicated there would be specific promises of aid.
Also on February 28, the SNC announced it has postponed an upcoming meeting in Istanbul, where the group was to elect a prime minister and government to run parts of Syria seized from Assad’s control.
The group said in a statement posted on its Facebook page that the conference was canceled for “logistical reasons.”
The United Nations estimates that more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt against Assad began almost two years ago.
With reporting by Reuters and AP