Obama set to arm Syrian rebels

WASHINGTON (JTA) – President Obama authorized arming to Syrian rebels for the first time after confirming that government forces there had used chemical weapons.

A number of U.S. media quoted anonymous Obama administration officials on Friday as saying Washington would provide small arms to the opposition forces fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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On the record, Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told reporters in a phone call that U.S. support for the military opposition would increase, but would not provide further detail.

“The President has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition,” Rhodes said in the call Thursday. “That will involve providing direct support to the SMC,” the Supreme Military Council. “That includes military support. I cannot detail for you all of the types of that support for a variety of reasons, but suffice it to say this is going to be different in both scope and scale in terms of what we are providing to the SMC than what we have provided before.”

Officially, Israel has remained silent on the issue of arming the rebels but according to the daily Maariv, Jerusalem firmly opposed a European proposal in March. Israel’s former deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, is quoted as saying then: “It would be a bad idea and a huge mistake.” He warned that weapons transferred to Syria would soon find their way to militias in Jordan and Lebanon, and eventually be used against Israel.

The report on Obama’s readiness to arm the rebels came after the White House said on Thursday that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons “on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year.” Obama has described proof of such use as a “red line” that would elevate the level of U.S. support for the opposition.

Syrian rebel and political opposition leaders immediately called for anti-aircraft and other sophisticated weaponry.

The arrival of thousands of seasoned, Iran-backed Hezbollah Shi’ite fighters to help Assad combat the mainly Sunni rebellion has shifted momentum in the two-year-old war, which the United Nations said on Thursday had killed at least 93,000 people.

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