Washington, June 14 (IANS) The US is considering increasing the “scale and scope” of its support for Syrian rebels after accusing President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of crossing a “red line” with its use of chemical weapons.
White House Thursday for the first time publicly accused the Assad regime of using chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin gas, against rebels in the ongoing civil war.
“The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said in a statement released by the White House.
“While the lethality of these attacks make up only a small portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria, which now stands at more than 90,000 deaths, the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades,” Rhodes added.
President Barack Obama’s administration also indicated that it was stepping up its support of the rebels, who have been calling for the United States and others to provide arms needed to battle al-Assad’s forces.
“Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have led us to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the (rebel Supreme Military Council). These efforts will increase going forward,” Rhodes’ statement said.
Rhodes later told reporters on a conference call that the president has made a decision about military support for the rebels but stopped short of saying the US government would put weapons in the hands of rebels, according to CNN.
Obama has previously said he did not foresee a scenario with “American boots on the ground in Syria.”
Rhodes also said no decision has been made by Obama over whether to institute a no-fly zone in Syria, something rebel forces have said is needed to halt al-Assad’s aerial bombardment of their strongholds.
The administration plans to share its findings with Congress and its allies, and it will make a decision about how to proceed “on our own timeline,” Rhodes said.