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US reconsidering whether to arm Syrian rebels as at least 50 die in Bayda

The potential rethink comes a week after the US said that they believed that chemical weapons had been used in the country.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel follows British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond for their joint news conference the Pentagon, Thursday, May 2, 2013, where they answered questions on Syria.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel follows British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond for their joint news conference the Pentagon, Thursday, May 2, 2013, where they answered questions on Syria.
Image: J. Scott Applewhite/AP/Press Association Images

THE US IS rethinking its position on whether it will arm the Syrian rebels.

The news comes on the same day as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad had killed at least 50 people in Baida, with the death toll expected to exceed 100.

“Witnesses from the village say no less than 50 civilians were killed, including women and children,” the rights group said.

At a news conference with his British counterpart Philip Hammond, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel was asked if the US government was rethinking its opposition to arming the rebels and replied: “Yes.”

The Pentagon chief was quick to add that no decision had been reached, however, and declined to say whether he himself was in favour of arming the opposition.

I’m in favor of exploring options and seeing what is the best option in coordination with our international partners.

After last week’s acknowledgement by the White House that US intelligence agencies believed the Syrian regime may have used chemical weapons on a small-scale, speculation has mounted that President Barack Obama could reverse his opposition to arming the rebels.

At the same press conference, Hammond said Britain had not ruled out arming the rebels or other military options but that his government had to abide by a European Union prohibition on sending weapons to the opposition.

“Certainly in our case, for the UK, we have been subject to an EU ban on supplying armaments to the rebels,” Hammond said.

We will look at the situation when that ban expires in a few weeks’ time. We will continue to keep that situation under review. But we will do what we are able to do within the bounds of legality, and we regard that as very important.

- Additional reporting by AFP

Read: Obama: Chemical weapons used in Syria, but we don’t know who used them >

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Paul Hyland

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