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White House Close to Decision on Arming Syrian Rebels

Moved by the Assad regime’s rapid advance, the Obama administration could decide this week to approve lethal aid for the beleaguered Syrian rebels and will weigh the merits of a less likely move to send in U.S. air power to enforce a no-fly zone over the civil war-wracked nation, officials told The Associated Press Sunday.

White House meetings are planned over the coming days, as Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government forces are apparently poised for an attack on the key city of Homs, which could cut off Syria’s armed opposition from the south of the country. As many as 5,000 Hezbollah fighters are now in Syria, officials believe, helping the regime press on with its campaign after capturing the town of Qusair near the Lebanese border last week.

While nothing has been concretely decided, U.S. officials said President Barack Obama was leaning closer toward signing off on sending weapons to vetted, moderate rebel units. The U.S. has spoken of possibly arming the opposition in recent months but has been hesitant because it doesn’t want to al Qaeda-linked and other extremists fighting alongside the anti-Assad militias to end up with the weapons. Obama already has ruled out any intervention that would require U.S. military boots on the ground. Other options such as deploying American air power to ground the regime’s jets, gunships and other aerial assets are now being more seriously debated, the officials said, while cautioning that a no-fly zone or any other action involving U.S. military deployments in Syria were far less likely right now.

Any intervention could have wide-reaching ramifications for the United States and the region. It would bring the U.S. closer to a conflict that has killed almost 80,000 people since Assad cracked down on protesters inspired by the Arab Spring in March 2011 and sparked a war that has since been increasingly defined by sectarian clashes between the Sunni-led rebellion and Assad’s Alawite-dominated regime. And it would essentially pit the United States alongside regional allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar in a proxy war against Iran, which is providing much of the materiel to the Syrian government’s counterinsurgency and, through Hezbollah, more and more of the manpower.

Source: Associated Press

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