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President Barack Obama puts away his notes before speaking to members of the media during his meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Thursday, April 11, 2013, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama says the situation in Syria has reached, in his words, a "critical juncture."

A civil war that has raged in Syria for more than two years has killed 70,000 people, according to United Nations estimates. No end appears to be in sight and Syrian President Bashar Assad had held on to power longer than the U.S. expected.

Obama commented Thursday in the Oval Office alongside U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said Syria remains a "most troubling situation."

Also Thursday, Obama freed up money for the first round of direct nonlethal U.S. assistance for Syria's armed opposition. The president signed a declaration directing up to $10 million to provide food and medical kits to help the rebels and civilians.

Secretary of State John Kerry had promised the aid in February as part of a $60 million package of direct assistance for the rebels.

The next phase of U.S. assistance to the rebels is expected to include body armor, night-vision goggles and other military-style equipment, while stopping short of providing weapons to the opposition.