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US yet to provide meals, medicine to Syrian rebels

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Obama administration said Wednesday it has yet to begin shipping meals and medical supplies to Syria’s armed opposition, a key pledge of Secretary of State John Kerry during his first overseas trip in his new job.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was still in talks with the Free Syrian Army about the package of nonlethal assistance that would be the first direct help provided by Washington to the militia fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s regime. She said the supplies would come from Defense Department stocks but that nothing has been shipped yet.

The administration hasn’t publicly provided any figures for its nonlethal aid to Syrian rebel fighters.

At a conference last month in Rome, Kerry announced $60 million more in U.S. financial support to the opposition.

The breakdown is as follows:

_$10 million to local council and other organizations governing areas “liberated” within Syria from Assad’s control.

_$30 million for an emergency project fund controlled by Syria’s opposition coalition that would be disbursed among on-the-ground opposition authorities, civil society groups and professional associations.

_$7 million to repair essential services such as water and electricity.

_$6 million in technical assistance to the Syrian opposition and to help it spread its message around the country.

_$7.7 million in programs to improve justice mechanisms, document human rights violation, resolve conflicts, prevent sectarian violence and educate on the risks involved with mines.

The aid to the political opposition is separate from the $385 million the United States is providing in humanitarian aid to victims of Syria’s two-year civil war. The U.S. is the biggest individual donor.

Other countries have yet to provide all of the money they have promised.

At a January conference in Kuwait, the United Nations received $1.5 billion in aid pledges. But the global body says it has only received a fifth of the money so far.

In a telephone briefing, U.S. aid organizations decried what they called “bafflingly” low support for Syrians trapped by war or stranded as refugees across the border.

Joel Charny, vice president of the aid umbrella group InterAction, said the violence in Syria makes it hard to deliver assistance to civilians inside the country. But he said there is no excuse for the lack of international funding for refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and other neighboring countries.

Michael Young of the International Rescue Committee said more money is needed to combat sexual assault and exploitation of women refugees, which he called “pervasive.”

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