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Kerry Says Syrian Opposition Can Handle Military Support

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that Syrian opposition forces battling government forces of President Bashar al-Assad are capable of handling any military support that might come their way.

Speaking at a news conference in Saudi Arabia, Kerry said, “There is no guarantee that one weapon or another might not at some point fall into the wrong hands, but I will tell you this: There is a very clear ability now in the Syrian opposition to make certain that what goes to the moderate, legitimate opposition is, in fact, getting to them, and the indication is that they are increasing their pressure as a result of that.”

The Obama administration has announced it would furnish food and medical supplies to the Syrian opposition, but not weapons.

Iran and Russia have provided military assistance to the Syrian government.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, appeared at the same news conference and announced his country’s continuing support for the Syrian rebels.  While not mentioning specifics, Prince al-Faisal said that Saudi Arabia “will do everything within its capabilities” to provide aid and security to the Syrians.  He added, “Morally, we have a duty to protect them.”

Prince al-Faisal noted that the Assad military was firing missiles at times of the day when civilians were out and about getting food and medicine.  “Nobody who has done that to his citizens can claim a right to lead a country,” he said.

There are reports that Syrian rebel fighters seized a large portion of the north-central city of Raqqa Monday after days of deadly clashes with government forces.

The rebels reportedly smashed a statue of Assad’s father in Ragga’s central square.

Videos posted on YouTube showed rebels pulling down the statue of Hafez al-Assad, its head smashing in the fall.

Raqqa has been under siege by the insurgents for days. On Saturday, Syrian government forces abandoned the city’s central prison. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based anti-Assad group with a network of observers inside Syria, said rebels fighters took control of the prison and released hundreds of inmates.

Observers note that gaining control of Ragga would be a significant blow to the Assad regime. Ragga would be the first provincial capital lost to the rebels in the two-year-long conflict.

Meanwhile, the New York Times cites reports from Iraq that say at least 40 Syrian soldiers who had fled from the rebels to the Iraqi side of the border on Sunday were killed Monday when the bus the Iraqi military was transporting them back into Syria on was attacked.

The report quotes Iraqi officials as saying the bus was damaged by bombs and that unidentified gunmen killed most of the occupants.

The two-year-long conflict in Syria has now claimed an estimated 70,000 lives.

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