U.S. airdrops ammunition to Syria rebels

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U.S. forces airdropped small arms ammunition and other supplies to Syrian Arab rebels, barely two weeks after Russia raised the stakes in the long-running civil war by intervening on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.

One military official said the drop, by Air Force C-17 cargo planes in northern Syrian on Sunday, was part of a revamped U.S. strategy announced last week to help rebels in Syria battling Islamic State militants.

SEE MORE: U.N. says pushing Russia, US for urgent agreement on Syria

Last week, Washington shelved a program to train and equip "moderate" rebels opposed to Assad who would join the fight against Islamic State.

The only group on the ground to have success against Islamic State while cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition is a Kurdish militia, the YPG, which has carved out an autonomous zone in northern Syria and advanced deep into Islamic State's stronghold Raqqa province.

On Monday, the YPG announced a new alliance with small groups of Arab fighters, which could help deflect criticism that it fights only on behalf of Kurds. Washington has indicated it could direct funding and weapons to Arab commanders on the ground who cooperate with the YPG.

Syrian Arab rebels said they had been told by Washington that new weapons were on their way to help them launch a joint offensive with their Kurdish allies on the city of Raqqa, the de facto Islamic State capital.

The U.S. military confirmed dropping supplies to opposition fighters vetted by the United States but would say no more about the groups that received the supplies or the type of equipment in the airdrop.

The Russian intervention in the four-year-old Syrian war has wrongfooted U.S. President Barack Obama's administration, which has been trying to defeat Islamic State while still calling for Assad's downfall.

DANGEROUS CONSEQUENCES

Russian President Vladimir Putin was rebuffed in his bid to gain support for his country's bombing campaign, with Saudi sources saying they had warned the Kremlin leader of dangerous consequences and Europe issuing its strongest criticism yet.

Putin met Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of a Formula One race in a Russian resort on Sunday.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said those talks, along with discussions with the United States, had yielded progress on the conflict, although Moscow, Washington and Riyadh did not agree in full "as yet".

A Saudi source said the defense minister, a son of the Saudi king, had told Putin that Russia's intervention would escalate the war and inspire militants from around the world to go there to fight.

See photos of the ongoing conflict in Syria:

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Syrian rebels, syrian airstrikes - updated 2/19/15
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U.S. airdrops ammunition to Syria rebels
A rebel fighter stands on a tank near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. Fierce clashes are raging between rebel forces and government troops in the villages of Ratyan and Hardtaneen as regime forces cut the main rebel supply line into Aleppo. The Syrian regime is ready to suspend aerial bombardment of Aleppo to allow a humanitarian ceasefire, a UN envoy said, even as government troops sought to encircle embattled rebels. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
The U.S. will provide some moderate Syrian rebels with trucks equipped with machine guns and radios to call in U.S. airstrikes. WSJ's Julian Barnes reports.
Rebel fighters drive tanks near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. Fierce clashes are raging between rebel forces and government troops in the villages of Ratyan and Hardtaneen as regime forces cut the main rebel supply line into Aleppo. The Syrian regime is ready to suspend aerial bombardment of Aleppo to allow a humanitarian ceasefire, a UN envoy said, even as government troops sought to encircle embattled rebels. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
Rebel fighters drive a tank near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. Fierce clashes are raging between rebel forces and government troops in the villages of Ratyan and Hardtaneen as regime forces cut the main rebel supply line into Aleppo. The Syrian regime is ready to suspend aerial bombardment of Aleppo to allow a humanitarian ceasefire, a UN envoy said, even as government troops sought to encircle embattled rebels. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
A rebel fighter stands looking at a tank on a truck near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. Fierce clashes are raging between rebel forces and government troops in the villages of Ratyan and Hardtaneen as regime forces cut the main rebel supply line into Aleppo. The Syrian regime is ready to suspend aerial bombardment of Aleppo to allow a humanitarian ceasefire, a UN envoy said, even as government troops sought to encircle embattled rebels. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Syrians gathered to search for survivors amidst the debris of destroyed buildings following an airstrike with barrel bomb by Syrian Government's helicopters in the Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. At least 16 casualties, including women and children, reported. (Photo by Mustafa Hafiz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A US-led coalition Rockwell B-1 Lancer flies above the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises from a burning building in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seen from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris and wrecked vehicles are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Smoke rises after an airstrike in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Smoke rises after an airstrike in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises after an airstrike in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 03: A photo taken in Suruc district of Sanliurfa, Turkey shows smoke rises from an explosion in the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following a US-led coalition airstrike hits an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets on November 3, 2014. (Photo by Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 30 : A photograph taken from Suruc district of Sanliurfa, Turkey, near Turkish-Syrian border crossing shows smoke rising from the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following the US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets on October 30, 2014. (Photo by Rauf Maltas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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Riyadh would go on supporting Assad's opponents and demand that he leave power, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

European foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, issued a statement calling on Moscow to halt its bombing of Assad's moderate enemies immediately.

They were unable to agree on whether Assad should have any role in ending the crisis but they did decide to extend sanctions by essentially freezing the assets of the spouses of senior Syrian figures.

"The recent Russian military attacks ... are of deep concern and must cease immediately," ministers said in a strongly worded statement. The war has claimed 250,000 lives and caused a refugee crisis in neighboring countries and Europe.

Moscow says it targets only banned terrorist groups in Syria, primarily Islamic State. In its briefings, it describes all of the targets it strikes as belonging to Islamic State.

However, most strikes have taken place in areas held by other opposition groups, including many that are supported by Arab states, Turkey and the West in a war which has also assumed a sectarian dimension with Shi'ite Iran at odds with Saudi Arabia's Sunni rulers.

RUSSIAN AIR SUPPORT

Syrian government forces and their allies from the Lebanese Shi'ite militia Hezbollah, backed by Iranian military officers, have launched a massive ground offensive in coordination with the Russian air support.

They fought their fiercest clashes on Monday since the assault began, advancing in strategically important territory near the north-south highway linking Syria's main cities.

Russian warplanes carried out at least 30 air strikes on the town of Kafr Nabuda in Hama province in western Syria, and hundreds of shells hit the area.

The Syrian army announced the capture of Kafr Nabuda and four other villages in Hama province. It also said the army had seized Jub al-Ahmar, a highland area in Latakia province which will put more rebel positions in the nearby Ghab Plain within range of the army's artillery.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group which monitors the war inSyria, said fierce clashes raged in both Kafr Nabuda and Jub al-Ahmar.

The Observatory's director, Rami Abdulrahmman, said the army and allied forces had taken part of Kafr Nabuda, and were fighting insurgents for full control of the town.

The U.N. diplomat trying to convene talks to end the war said he would hold talks in Russiaon Tuesday and then in Washington.

See more from Reuters:
Syria's Nusra leader urges wider attacks on Assad's Alawite areas to avenge Russian bombing
Hezbollah mourns senior commander killed in Syria
EU urges Russia to stop bombing in Syria, split on Assad role
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