US may give lethal weapons to Syrian rebels: Report

Washington, May 1 (IANS) The US is considering providing lethal weapons to Syrian opposition forces and a decision is expected within weeks, a media report said Wednesday.

“President Barack Obama is preparing to send lethal weaponry to the Syrian opposition and has taken steps to assert more aggressive US leadership among allies and partners seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad,” the Washington Post reported, citing senior US officials.

“The officials said they are moving toward the shipment of arms but emphasized that they are still pursuing political negotiation,” according to a Xinhua report.

The revelation of policy change at the White House came after the US joined Britain, France and Israel last week in asserting that chemical weapons have been used in the internal conflict in Syria, which has allegedly dragged on for three years and killed more than 70,000 people.

But Washington said it has no idea about “how they were used, when they were used, who used them.”

US President Barack Obama warned Tuesday against rushing to judgement on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, saying he needs “hard, effective evidence” before taking action.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to visit Russia next week, and Obama himself will meet Russian President Vladmir Putin first in June when the Group of Eight leaders meet in Northern Ireland and again in September in Russia, and discuss the Syrian issue.

The two presidents talked by phone on Monday about the situation in Syria, and Obama underscored his concern over Syrian chemical weapons.

Obama “is likely to make a final decision on the supply of arms to the opposition within weeks, before a scheduled meeting with Putin in June,” the administration officials were quoted as saying.

Obama said Tuesday that confirmation of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, which he had called a “red line” and “game changer,” would mean that “there are some options that we might not otherwise exercise that we would strongly consider.”

The Syrian rebels have been asking for anti-tank weapons and surface-to-air missiles in particular from Western countries, but Washington has until now limited its aid to non-lethal items as it fears that weapons provided might fall into the hands of militants among the rebels.

Asked about the possibility of establishing a no-fly zone over opposition-held areas in Syria, one official said the administration was “reviewing all options”.

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