France giving aid to rebel-held Syrian cities
Paris: France has started providing direct aid and money to five rebel-held Syrian cities as it intensifies efforts to weaken President Bashar Assad, in the first such move by a western power, a diplomatic source said.
The French aid comes as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticised the Security Council on Wednesday for failing to take action to protect Syrians facing violence that has led to thousands of deaths.
Amid mounting calls for the international community to do more to prevent bloodshed, France Syria's onetime colonial ruler has pushed to secure "liberated zones" in Syria.
France has increased its contacts with armed opposition groups, and started giving aid last Friday to local citizens' councils in five cities outside the government's control, the diplomatic source said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius promised last week that such aid was in the pipeline.
The aid is notably helping restore water supplies, bakeries and schools affected by Syria's civil war, with the aim of helping rebel-held areas run themselves, the diplomatic official said.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the French actions amid Syria's violence.
France's allies are interested in providing similar aid, the official said. He would not name the cities or explain how the aid is being provided, citing security reasons.
He said the cities house a total of 700,000 residents and have been outside control of President Bashar Assad's regime for between one and five months.
French officials have acknowledged providing communications and other non-lethal equipment to Syrian rebel forces, but say they won't provide weapons without international agreement.
France played a leading role in the international campaign against Libya's dictator Muammar Gaddafi last year.