CNN reported that the United States military support for Syrian rebels will include small arms, ammunition and possibly anti-tank weapons, according to two officials familiar with the matter. The weapons will be provided by the CIA, the officials said.
On Thursday, the White House said Syria had crossed a "red line" with the use of chemical weapons against rebels and added that the US would increase the "scale and scope" of support for the opposition.
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The report follows the US statement that Syria's government used the nerve agent sarin on two occasions in the embattled city of Aleppo in March and April.
A letter from US Ambassador Susan Rice to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also cited two other incidents of possible chemical weapons use by the regime of President Bashar Assad.
After several reports that the US is considering enforcing a no-fly zone above Syria, the White House said on Friday it would be dramatically more difficult and costly to set up a no-fly zone over Syria than it was
in Libya, stressing that the United States does not have a national interest in pursuing that option.
Rebels in Aleppo (Photo: MCT)
President Barack Obama's decision to begin arming Syria's rebels deepens US involvement in a regional proxy war that is increasingly being fought along sectarian lines, pitting Sunni against Shiite Muslims, and threatening the stability of Syria's neighbors.
Arming the rebels is bound to heighten US tensions with Russia, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It could further escalate a brutal, if deadlocked, civil war that has killed nearly 93,000 people and displaced millions, with no end in sight.
Obama's decision marks a turning point for the US, which up to now had avoided getting drawn into the conflict militarily. A key US concern had been that US-supplied weapons could fall into the hands of al-Qaeda-linked militants fighting alongside the rebels.
However, US credibility was on the line after the White House claimed it had conclusive evidence regarding chemical weapons usage, something Obama has said in the past such use would cross a red line, hinting at greater US intervention.
Washington's decision comes at a time of several military setbacks for the rebels and the growing involvement of Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside the regime. Hezbollah's role was key in the capture of the strategic rebel-held town of Qusair earlier this month.
The full scope of the assistance authorized by the White House is still unclear. But the administration could give the rebels a range of weapons, including small arms, assault rifles, shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenades and other anti-tank missiles.
Rebel commanders say they need anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to counter the regime's superior firepower, delivered from warplanes and armored vehicles. But Obama's opposition to sending American troops into Syria and concern about high-powered weapons ending up in the hands of terrorist groups makes it less likely the US will provide sophisticated arms that would require large-scale training.
The news agencies contributed to this report
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