The opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) said on Thursday it had received $6 million from the United States in the first direct US financial support for the rebel body.
The money is for development and relief projects in "areas liberated by the moderate Syrian opposition," it said in a statement, including food deliveries, public services and supporting local rebel councils.
Ahmed Tohmeh, the chief of the SNC’s self-proclaimed interim government, said the money would be divided into two parts, with $4.4 million devoted to reconstruction and the purchase of heavy equipment include generators, water pumps and tankers.
The remaining $1.6 million will be used to strengthen local governance in rebel-controlled areas and for emergency aid response, including food baskets and assistance to bakeries.
He said the funds would not be spent on operating and running costs, which the SNC would cover separately from other sources.
The SNC’s political wing said it has signed deals with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on the dispersal of the funds.
Mamdouh Soud, operations manager for the program dispersing the funds, said they would be spent mostly in northern Aleppo province and northwestern Idleb province for now.
"In the next two months, we hope to expand into northern Lattakia and northern Hama provinces," he announced.
He said the current grant would extend until May and the SNC hoped to negotiate additional funds beyond that.
The SNC, based in Turkey and Qatar, is recognized by Western powers as the representatives of the Syrian opposition.
However, they have regularly faced charges of being out of touch with the realities of the conflict on the ground.
Moderate rebel groups with ties to the Coalition have lost ground in recent months to both the Syrian army and jihadist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Nusra Front.
US military aid
Meanwhile, 400 US troops will begin training Syrian rebel forces next month, according to Syria’s interim government officials
Last week, US Army Major General Michael Nagata met with officials from the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces in Istanbul to discuss details of the program.
The US military will train and equip Syrian opposition forces in Syria’s neighboring countries — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan — which had earlier agreed to host the training sites.
The training program is a part of the US’ plan to field local forces in Syria. The Pentagon has estimated that it can train more than 5,000 recruits in the first year and that up to 15,000 will be needed to retake areas of eastern Syria controlled by ISIS.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war, Western powers, and some regional countries have supported rebels by arming, financing and politically empowering militant groups in the country.
The US decision to train and equip rebel groups in Syria was criticized by several of its officials who warned of dire consequences.
Former US Congressman Ron Paul denounced the plans in an interview with Russia Today, noting that these Western-backed forces have been helpful to ISIS, which since August has captured swathes of lands in Iraq and Syria.
“The Free Syrian Army (FSA) turned over the weapons, that we (the US) sent them, to ISIS,” Paul said. “It is pretty well recorded that for $50,000 the FSA turned over one of the two American journalists to ISIS.”
In September, a report by the London-based small-arms research organization Conflict Armament Research revealed that ISIS jihadists in Syria as well appear to be using US military-issued arms and weapons supplied to rebels by Saudi Arabia.
The report said the jihadists disposed of "significant quantities" of US-made small arms including M-16 assault rifles and included photos showing the markings "Property of US Govt."
It also found that anti-tank rockets used by ISIS in Syria were "identical to M79 rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the Free Syrian Army umbrella in 2013."