WASHINGTON, March 15 (Reuters) - The U.S. government said Friday it would allow American citizens, companies and banks to send money to Syrian opposition forces struggling to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
The Treasury Department move exempts Syrian rebels from broad U.S. sanctions against aid to Syria imposed at the beginning of the 2-year-old government crackdown on opposition forces that has killed an estimated 70,000 people.
"The United States is committed to supporting the Syrian people's aspirations for a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, inclusive, and peaceful Syria," said the Treasury Department, which controls financial sanctions. "The Syrian government has sacrificed all legitimacy in its violent attempts to cling to power."
The news comes as France and Britain have pushed the European Union to lift an EU arms embargo to allow weapon supplies to flow to Syrian rebels, a move the rest of the European Union rejected on Friday.
The United States has already said it would provide medical supplies and food directly to opposition fighters, but has ruled out sending arms for fear they may find their way to Islamist hardliners who might then use them against Western targets.
Backing the Syrian opposition is increasingly seen as the only leverage foreign powers have in trying to support the uprising against al-Assad.
Treasury said it would continue to put economic pressure on Assad's government through other financial sanctions, as well as targeted sanctions on Syrian government officials and their supporters.
In 2011, the United States froze all Syrian assets in the United States and barred U.S. citizens from making new investments or exporting services to Syria, in addition to other sanctions on specific banks and individuals imposed earlier.
On Friday, the Treasury issued a general license on dealings with the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which eases restrictions but leaves sanctions laws on the books. (Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Doina Chiacu)