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US eases trade restrictions on Syrian opposition

Syrian children riding on the back of a pick-up truck in Rastan, in the central Homs province on June 7, 2013
A handout picture released by the opposition-run Shaam News Network on June 12, 2013, shows Syrian children riding on the back of a pick-up truck in Rastan, in the central Homs province on June 7, 2013. The United States eased restrictions on trade with S

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 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.

Suppliers can apply for export licenses on a case-by-case basis, the State Department said, as the US looks to aid reconstruction in areas of the war-torn country not controlled by Syrian government forces.

Companies can already freely ship food and medicine to opposition areas, but other items and equipment had been strictly controlled.

"These items are intended to help address the critical needs of the Syrian people and facilitate reconstruction in liberated areas," the department said in a statement.

A senior State Department official said the move was "really about enabling the opposition to work with the private sector, to work with international organizations, to work with NGOs, to provide additional support, reconstruction activities, in any of those areas beyond what the US is providing from the US government directly."

The new exemptions also allow companies to buy oil from the opposition, and to sell equipment for oil and gas production.

But it was not clear just how fast the opposition would be able to begin selling oil.

"Clearly there are a variety of issues related to the oil export infrastructure in Syria," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"This is an issue that the Syrian opposition has been and is quite interested in."

Private sales of arms to the rebels, however, were not included in the new policy.

"We are talking about easing economic sanctions in support of the opposition. Any actions taken today don't affect existing regulations related to providing arms," the official said.

The easing further opens the door for non-profit support of efforts to preserve Syria's cultural heritage, like archaeological sites, in opposition-held areas.

"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 State Department said.