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U.S. Considering Arming Syria Rebels

  • RFE/RL

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the United States is considering whether to arm Syrian rebel forces.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the United States is considering whether to arm Syrian rebel forces.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the Obama administration is reconsidering its opposition to arming the Syrian rebels.

Hagel told reporters on May 2 that the administration is considering a range of options, including arming the rebels.

But he said that he, personally, has not decided yet whether it would be wise to provide weapons to rebels fighting to oust the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

"These are options that must be considered with partners, with the international community," Hagel said. "What is possible? What can help accomplish these objectives?"

The United States has been providing humanitarian aid and nonlethal military supplies to Syrian opposition forces.

Some U.S. military commanders have expressed concerns that weapons could wind up in the possession of anti-American Islamist militants.

But discussion about potential U.S. weapons aid has intensified after officials last week said there are indications that chemical weapons may have been used on a small scale in the Syrian conflict.

The Syrian opposition and regime have blamed each other for the alleged chemical weapons attacks.

Syria's Sunni Muslim rebels are believed to receive arms and military support from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, while the Syrian regime is allied with Iran and Russia, a major arms supplier.

A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his AK-47 rifle through a window in Aleppo's Salaheddine neighborhood on April 28.

A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his AK-47 rifle through a window in Aleppo's Salaheddine neighborhood on April 28.

President Barack Obama on May 2 expressed caution about the prospect of arming the rebels, citing the risk of fueling a broader sectarian conflict.

"We also know that the Assad regime is not just getting lethal aid but also training and support from countries outside of Syria," Obama said. "We want to evaluate and make sure that every step that we take advances the day when Assad is gone and you have people inside of Syria who will determine their own destiny rather than engage in a long, bloody sectarian war."

Obama, speaking on a visit to Mexico City, added: "We want to make sure that we look before we leap and that what we're doing is actually helpful, as opposed to making it more deadly or more complex."

At the United Nations in New York, meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held talks with ambassadors of Security Council powers to discuss the deadlock over international diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.

The talks came amid reports that Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint UN-Arab League envoy to the Syrian conflict, is preparing to quit because of frustration with international disagreements.

The UN said Ban met on May 2 with the ambassadors of the five veto-holding Security Council members – Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States.

The opposing views on the conflict held by the United States and Russia have prevented the formation of any unified international campaign.

The United States has demanded that the Syrian government leave power, while the regime's ally Russia has consistently rejected international interference.

Brahimi’s mediation has also been criticized by the Syrian opposition. For its part, the regime has refused to deal with the Algerian diplomat.

Syrian opposition activists on May 2 alleged that forces loyal to the regime killed at least 50 people in an assault on the coastal village of Baida. No independent confirmation was available.

UN estimates say more than 70,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict broke out more than two years ago.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and AP
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