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Obama refuses to specify US aid to Syrian rebels

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Barack Obama at a press conference in the Chancellery in Berlin on Wednesday. The US president refused to specify the exact nature of new US military aid to Syrian rebels, despite signals from top US officials that they will be get small arms and ammunition. (AFP)

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday refused to specify the exact nature of new US military aid to Syrian rebels, despite signals from top US officials that they will be get small arms and ammunition.

"I cannot and will not comment on specifics on our programmes related to the Syrian opposition," Obama said at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Obama has refused to publicly specify exactly how Washington will increase aid to the Syrian opposition, after his government said it would offer military support for the first time after determining President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons.

Previously Obama had warned against pouring more weapons into the conflict and had kept US aid limited to humanitarian and non-lethal supplies.

The US president also said in Berlin that reports in the United States that escalating American support to the rebels meant the White House was now on a slippery slope to a new Middle East entanglement were mistaken.

He said reports were "overcranked" when suggesting the US was heading into a new Middle Eastern war.

"What we want to do is end a war," he said, calling again for a political transition in Syria that does not include Assad.

Merkel said Berlin agreed that "Assad has lost his legitimacy" but reiterated the stance that "Germany has very clear legal rules that we do not send weapons into civil wars", saying this was universal and "has nothing to do with the question of Syria specifically".

But she added: "This doesn't mean that we can't play a constructive role, in the political process, humanitarian aid and the question about the right way" to help the moderate opposition and the people of Syria.