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Report: Syria rebels get better weapons as US quietly boosts support

Fadi Zaidan / AP

In this Monday, May 14, photo, a girl walks past Syrian rebels at Khaldiyeh neighborhood in Homs province, central Syria.

Updated at 1 p.m. ET: Syrian rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad's government are getting more and better weapons in an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated partly by the United States, the Washington Post reported late on Tuesday.

The report cited opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials.

Obama administration officials emphasized the United States is not supplying or funding the lethal material, which includes anti-tank weapons, the report said.

Instead, they said, the administration has expanded contacts with opposition military forces to provide the Gulf nations with assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure, the Post said.

Opposition activists said the Syrian security forces have even opened fire on a funeral procession, killing at least 21 people. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

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"We are increasing our non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, and we continue to coordinate our efforts with friends and allies in the region and beyond in order to have the biggest impact on what we are collectively doing," said a senior State Department official, one of several U.S. and foreign government officials who discussed the evolving effort on condition of anonymity, the Post reported.

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U.S. contacts with the rebels and the information-sharing with Gulf nations mark a shift in Obama administration policy as hopes dim for a political solution to the Syrian crisis, the Post said.

Opposition activists speaking to the newspaper said that the flow of weapons increased significantly after Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others boosted the amount of money they would spend on the rebels.

The killing has not stopped, leaving many to wonder if the peace plan has failed. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

Weapons and other material was being stockpiled in Damascus, near the Turkish border in Idlib and Zabadani near Lebanon, according to the Post.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria claimed to have opened its own supply channel, Mulham al-Drobi, a member of the Brotherhood’s executive committee, told the newspaper. 

U.K.-based Syrian opposition activist Abdul Wahab Omar said he would welcome increased supplies to the rebels' Free Syrian Army, but said he had not heard this was happening.

“The (Free Syria Army) remains in my eyes as powerful, no more no less, as it was two months ago,” he told msnbc.com. “I haven’t seen any reports of new kinds of equipment on the ground.  I have heard what I’m used to hearing so far – the rebels continue to be in the position where they cannot yet pose a significant threat to the Assad regime.”

Any indications that there were more weapons were likely due to the relative lull in activity, which meant that stockpiles weren’t being depleted as quickly, he added.

 Reuters contributed to this report. 

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