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Barack Obama has decided it's time to send weapons to Syrian rebels

Associated Press reports that the White House has reached a view that the Syrian crisis requires greater intervention by western powers.

Image: Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Press Association Images

US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA has authorised the sending of weapons to Syrian rebels for the first time, US officials said last night.

This came after the White House disclosed that the United States has conclusive evidence President Bashar Assad’s government used chemical weapons against opposition forces trying to overthrow him.

Obama has repeatedly said the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line,” suggesting it would trigger greater American intervention in the two-year crisis.

Arizona senator John McCain, one of the strongest proponents of US military action in Syria, said he was told yesterday that Obama had decided to “provide arms to the rebels,” a decision confirmed by three US officials.

The officials cautioned that decisions on the specific type of weaponry were still being finalised, though the CIA was expected to be tasked with teaching the rebels how to use the arms the White House had agreed to supply.

Still, the White House signaled that Obama did plan to step up US involvement in the Syrian crisis in response to the chemical weapons disclosure.

“This is going to be different in both scope and scale in terms of what we are providing,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser. The US has so far provided the Syrian rebel army with rations and medical supplies.

Thursday’s announcement followed a series of urgent meetings at the White House this week that revealed deep divisions within the administration over US involvement in Syria’s civil war.

The proponents of more aggressive action — including Secretary of State John Kerry — appeared to have won out over those wary of sending weapons and ammunition into a war zone where Hezbollah and Iranian fighters are backing Assad’s armed forces, and Al Qaeda-linked extremists back the rebellion.

No troops

Obama opposes putting American troops on the ground in Syria and the US has made no decision on operating a no-fly zone over Syria, Rhodes said.

US officials said the administration could provide the rebels with a range of weapons, including small arms, ammunition, assault rifles and a variety of anti-tank weaponry such as shoulder-fired remote-propelled grenades and other missiles.

However, a final decision on the inventory has not been made, the officials said.

Word of the stepped up assistance followed new US intelligence assessments showing that Assad has used chemical weapons, including sarin, on a small scale multiple times in the last year.
U.S. intelligence estimates 100 to 150 people have been killed in those attacks, the White House said, constituting a small percentage of the 93,000 people killed in Syria over the last two years.

The White House said it believes Assad’s regime still maintains control of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles and does not see any evidence that rebel forces have launched attacks using the deadly agents.

Obama has said repeatedly that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and constitute a “game changer” for U.S. policy on Syria, which until now has focused entirely on providing the opposition with nonlethal assistance and humanitarian aid.

Read: Does it spread? 22 powerful images of civil unrest

Read: France says Assad regime has used the deadly chemical sarin

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Associated Press

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