France made its largest medical delivery to northern Syria on Friday, including antidotes for nerve agents, as rebels prepared to fight off an assault on the city of Aleppo by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
France, which has actively supported the rebels in its former colony, has not yet chosen to arm Assad's foes, but has been channelling non-lethal equipment as well as medical aid through the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organisations, a non-governmental association based in Paris.
The foreign ministry said the 16 tonnes of aid was trucked from Turkey to a hospital in northern Syria, from where it will be distributed by the association. Its contents ranged from antibiotics to anti-inflammatories and medicines for heart conditions.
"These medicines will allow the treatment of several thousand people in about 20 health centres around Syria, and particularly in the north," Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said in a statement.
Syria's 27-month conflict appears to be reaching a turning point, after Assad's forces backed by Iran and Lebanese militia Hezbollah captured Qusair near the Lebanese border this month.
Assad's troops have since turned their attention to recapturing Aleppo, the Damascus suburbs and parts of the south of the country where they have been mired in a bloody stalemate with rebels for nearly a year.
A diplomatic source said much of the aid would go to the Aleppo area and would include atropine and valium, both used to as antidotes to severe nerve gas exposure.
"These medicines will be able to treat 200-300 people that have been severely intoxicated and a great deal more of those who have only been mildly affected," the source said.
Paris said on June 4 that there was no doubt the Syrian government had used nerve agent sarin against rebels.