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April 19, 2013

US Plans to Expand Non-Lethal Aid to Syrian Rebels

by VOA News

U.S. officials say Washington plans to provide about $100 million in new aid to the Syrian opposition for non-lethal military equipment.

Officials say Secretary of State John Kerry will announce the new aid this weekend at an international conference on Syria that he will attend in Turkey.

The officials say the new assistance will not include any weapons or other lethal equipment. Non-lethal military aid could include items such as body armor, night vision goggles and communications equipment.

Also Friday, the United Nations and Arab League mediator for the conflict in Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, offered a bleak assessment of the Syrian conflict.

He told reporters after a closed-door meeting with the U.N. Security Council that the situation is extremely serious and expressed frustration with the United Nations, the Syrian government and opposition rebels.

"With the Syrians I got nowhere. With the Security Council, the Americans and the Russians, we made some progress but it was far too little."

In another development Friday, Syrian opposition activists reported that a government official has been killed at a Damascus restaurant.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights says gunmen stormed a restaurant in the upscale neighborhood of Mazzeh late Thursday and killed Ali Ballan, the head of public relations at Syria's Ministry of Social Affairs.

Syria has witnessed several recent assassinations. Last month, a suicide bombing at a Damascus mosque killed pro-government cleric Mohammed al-Buti.

Extremists have been playing a bigger role among rebel groups recently in Syria as the two-year uprising drags on with no sign of ending.

The Observatory also reported that fighting continued Friday between government and rebel forces south of the capital.