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Obama ramps up aid to Syrian opposition

WASHINGTON--U.S. President Barack Obama has ramped up U.S. aid, including communications equipment and medical supplies, to Syria's opposition in hopes of accelerating the downfall of President Bashar Assad, officials said.

The president signed off on the US$12 million package last week, U.S. officials said Friday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. They would not outline all forms of American assistance because of the danger anti-Assad protesters have faced over the past year.

After a year of violence in Syria, a tenuous truce has taken hold this week. Tens of thousands of Syrians protested against the government on Friday. Security forces used live fire, tear gas and beat some protesters, but there was no immediate sign of wide-scale shelling or sniper attacks.

Obama spoke about potential aid options last month during a lengthy private meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in South Korea. Officials said at the time that Washington and its allies were considering providing Syrian rebels with communication, medical and other “nonlethal” aid.

They've declined to outline publicly what might be encompassed by nonlethal aid. That could include clothing, bullet-proof vests, radios, night vision goggles or other objects Washington provided last year to Libyan rebels as they fought a civil war to overthrow dictator Moammar Gadhafi. But officials stressed the majority of the aid was medical and communications supplies.

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