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US will speed new aid to Syria rebels


– Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the United States would push to expedite delivery of new U.S. nonlethal military assistance to Syrian opposition fighters, including body armor and additional communications equipment.

“I’m going to press to make sure this is a matter of weeks. It has to happen quickly; it has to have an impact,” Kerry said at a news conference after marathon meetings over the weekend to unify the rebel movement and its international backers.

He said there would be additional consultations with Gen. Salim Idriss, head of the rebel Supreme Military Council, who attended the meetings in Istanbul, to determine what the opposition forces most need.

“Movement of those items (directly) to Gen. Idriss,” Kerry said, “is going to have an impact, particularly in the south,” where rebel fighters have begun to gain territory.

Donor nations meeting here also pledged to funnel all future aid – weapons largely provided by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and nonlethal assistance from the United States, Britain, France and others – through the military council to prevent it from falling into the hands of Islamist extremist groups who have grown in power within the anti-Assad ranks.

Idriss, Kerry said, could not have been more clear about “what he and the opposition are doing to separate themselves from what some of the extreme elements are doing. … We are quite confident that he is a strong leader with the capacity to make a difference.”

Kerry’s description of the body armor and other defensive material was the first public confirmation that President Obama has approved additional shipments of nonlethal equipment directly to the rebel military, on top of food and medical supplies that Kerry announced in February.

Those initial supplies have been slow to arrive. Kerry said that during his talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, progress has been made to remove impediments to delivery.