- Bashar al-Assad - Syria - unrest - USA - weapons
US helping funnel arms into Syria, report says
The US has been helping to funnel more sophisticated arms, such as anti-tank weaponry, to factions in Syria fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, a claim they say the US government has denied.
AFP - The United States is helping bring more and better weapons to Syria's rebels, including anti-tank weaponry, for their fight against President Bashar al-Assad regime,The Washington Post said Wednesday.
President Barack Obama's administration insisted it was not directly supplying the weapons or providing funding, with Gulf states paying for the new arms, the Post said, citing US and foreign officials.
But Washington has stepped up links with the rebels and regional militaries allied with them, playing a role in the rebel's foreign support network, according to the report.
"We are increasing our nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, and we continue to coordinate our efforts with friends and allies in the region and beyond in order to have the biggest impact on what we are collectively doing," a senior State Department official told the Post.
If true, the US administration's move to increase contact with the rebels and boost information-sharing with Gulf states who back them would mark a shift in policy for the Obama administration, which has so far resisted overt support for the armed groups battling Assad forces.
But US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland insisted US policy had not changed, saying the Post had "stretched its sourcing."
"The United States has made a decision to provide nonlethal support to civilian members of the opposition," she said, pointing to shipments of medical and communications equipment.
"But with regard to any assertions with regard to lethal (aid), we are not involved in that," Nuland added.
"We don't think that adding fuel to this fire is the right way to go."
The spokeswoman did not explicitly indicate whether the United States was urging allies to avoid providing weapons to Syrian rebels.
On Tuesday, US officials said Washington deplored the escalating violence in Syria, after a bomb exploded in front of a UN convoy and reports surfaced of a new massacre by government forces.
Syria's anti-regime revolt has entered its 15th month of relentless violence that has killed more than 12,000 people amid growing fears that a UN-backed peace plan will fail.
The United States has vowed to increase pressure on Assad to step down and the issue will be raised at the NATO meeting in Chicago on Sunday and Monday, with US officials urging Damascus to implement a plan pushed by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan seeking a resolution to the crisis.