US and UK suspend Syria non-lethal aid as winter bites

The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to rebel-held parts of northern Syria today.

Damascus: The United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to rebel-held parts of northern Syria today, a day after Islamists overran a border crossing in the snow-swept region near Turkey.

Gulf Arab states meeting in Kuwait demanded foreign militias withdraw from Syria and said President Bashar al-Assad must have no future role, in a declaration his regime denounced as meddling.

Thousands of Syrian refugees in neighbouring Lebanon also had to battle the elements when their makeshift camps were lashed by a winter storm that brought snow, rain and freezing temperatures.

The US and British decision to suspend non-lethal aid to the opposition in northern Syria came after Islamist rebels seized the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and key bases from the mainstream Free Syrian Army.

"We have seen reports that Islamic Front forces have seized the Atmeh headquarters and warehouses belonging to the (FSA`s) supreme military council and we are obviously concerned," T.J. Grubisha, spokesman for the US embassy in Ankara, told AFP.

"Because of the current situation, the United States has suspended deliveries of non-lethal assistance into northern Syria."

Non-lethal US aid provided to the rebels has included armoured vehicles, night vision goggles and advanced communications equipment.

Grubisha said the decision to suspend such aid would not impact on humanitarian assistance which was coordinated by international and non-governmental organisations including the United Nations.

Britain said it too had suspended non-lethal aid, with a spokesman for its Ankara embassy saying the decision was taken because "the situation remains unclear" and did not mean support for the opposition was diminishing.

France said it would continue to provide "non-lethal military aid" to the main opposition National Coalition in coordination with its partners in the European Union.

The Islamic Front, the largest Islamist rebel force in Syria, seized depots belonging to the FSA near the Turkish border on Saturday, before taking control of the Bab al-Tawa crossing itself yesterday, according to monitors.