14 Jun 2013

US ready to arm Syrian rebels after chemicals claim

The US says it will increase military assistance, including arms, to Syrian rebels after claiming Damascus used chemical weapons. But the Syrian government dismisses the claim as “full of lies”.

President Barack Obama has been slow to move towards military assistance for Syria’s rebels but is now looking to work with allies to intervene in the country’s civil war.

The Obama administration may provide limited one-off missile strikes from ships or operations similar to Libya.

But White House officials have played down the prospect of a no-fly zone, citing the open-ended costs and uncertainty of such an operation in a place like Syria, which has well-defended airspace. The prospect of sending US forces into the country is not on the agenda.

The White House confirmed it would increase support to the opposition Supreme Military Council, including military support, but it did not specify if this included weaponry.

Read: Britons fighting with Syria's jihadi 'band of brothers'

Military support

Reports on Thursday indicated that the president has authorised sending US weapons to Syrian rebels as part of a new package of military support.

President Obama previously opposed arming anti-government rebels, but pressure rose after intelligence agencies concluded chemical weapons had been used in Syria’s civil war

In August 2012, the US warned the president would consider more significant aid to the rebels if Assad’s regime crossed a “red line” by using sizeable amounts of chemical weapons.

Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, said on Thursday: “It is now clear that the Assad regime has crossed a red line. I encourage the administration to begin in earnest arming the Free Syrian Army.”

‘Full of lies’

But the Syrian foreign ministry issued a statement, saying: “The White House has issued a statement full of lies about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, based on fabricated information.

“The United States is using cheap tactics to justify President Barack Obama’s decision to arm the Syrian opposition.”

Alexei Pushkov, head of Russia’s foreign policy committee, posted on Twitter: “Information about the use by Assad of chemical weapons has been fabricated in the same place as the lies about (Saddam) Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.”

The commander of the main western-backed rebel group fighting in Syria, General Salim Idris, told Al-Arabiya TV; “We hope to have the weapons and ammunition that we need in the near future.”

Britain backs Obama

Prime Minister David Cameron said there was credible evidence of “multiple attacks” using chemical weapons by the Assad regime, but he also
conceded that “elements affiliated to al-Qaeda in the region have attempted to acquire chemical weapons for probable use in Syria”.

Who are Syria’s rebels? Explore the groups fighting Assad in the Syria Files interactive report.