The United States eased restrictions on trade with Syria’s opposition Wednesday, in a move aimed at helping supply the critical needs of Syrians in “liberated areas.”
The AFP news agency reported the new waivers to general sanctions on the country allow companies to supply software, technology, reconstruction and power generation equipment, as well as farm and food production equipment, to opposition-controlled areas.
“These items are intended to help address the critical needs of the Syrian people and facilitate reconstruction in liberated areas,” the State Department said, according to AFP.
The new exemptions also allow companies to buy oil from the opposition, and they allow non-profit support of efforts to preserve Syria’s cultural heritage, like archaeological sites.
“Our priority in Syria is to help the people, ensuring that food and medical supplies can reach Syrians afflicted by the ongoing conflict,” the statement explained.
“We also recognize that rebuilding Syria’s future requires helping preserve the country’s cultural heritage and we want to ensure that sanctions do not impede that important effort.”
The easing on the restrictions came amid reports that President Barack Obama is close to approving arms for the rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
Officials in the U.S. said this week that the Obama administration could decide this week to approve lethal aid for the rebels.
White House meetings on the issue are planned over the coming days. Opposition leaders have warned Washington that their rebellion could face devastating and irreversible losses without greater support, prompting the U.S. to consider drastic action.
To date, President Obama has only committed non-lethal aid, despite lawmakers' calls for more forceful action from the U.S. as the civil war there intensifies and threatens neighboring countries.
One of the reasons for the hesitation in arming rebels is that they include radical, jihadist groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
“The longer we wait to take action, the more action we will have to take,” the Arizona Republican said.
European Union foreign ministers agreed at the end of May to lift an arms embargo in order to supply weapons to Syrian rebels, but British Foreign Secretary William Hague said at the time that "no immediate decision" would be made on sending arms to the rebels fighting Bashar Al-Assad's regime.
Hague, who met with his U.S. counterpart John Kerry on Wednesday, said that Britain and its allies must be "prepared to do more" to save innocent lives in Syria.
"The United Kingdom believes that the situation demands a strong, coordinated, and determined approach by the UK, the U.S., and our allies in Europe and the region," Hague said.
Calling the conflict in Syria "the most urgent crisis anywhere in the world today," Hague warned that Assad’s regime "seems to be preparing new assaults, endangering the lives and safety of hundreds of Syrians who are already in desperate need."
Kerry said that his country is considering what steps it can take in order to help the Syrian opposition.