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Obama set to arm Syrian rebels

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama authorized arming Syrian rebels for the first time after confirming that government forces there had used chemical weapons.

Several U.S. media outlets quoted anonymous Obama administration officials on Friday as saying Washington would provide small arms to the opposition forces fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Separately, Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told reporters that U.S. support for the military opposition would increase, but would not provide further details.

“The President has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition,” Rhodes said Thursday. “That will involve providing direct support to the SMC,” the Supreme Military Council. “That includes military support. I cannot detail for you all of the types of that support for a variety of reasons, but suffice it to say this is going to be different in both scope and scale in terms of what we are providing to the SMC than what we have provided before.”

Officially, Israel has remained silent on the issue of arming the rebels, but according to the daily Maariv, Jerusalem firmly opposed a European proposal to provide arms to the rebels in March.

“It would be a bad idea and a huge mistake,” Israel’s former deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, was quoted as saying at the time. Ayalon warned that weapons transferred to Syria would soon find their way to militias in Jordan and Lebanon, and eventually be used against Israel.

The latest report comes after the White House said on Thursday that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons “on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year.” Obama has described proof of such use as a “red line” that would elevate the level of U.S. support for the opposition.

Syrian rebel and political opposition leaders immediately called for anti-aircraft and other sophisticated weaponry.

The recent arrival of thousands of seasoned, Iran-backed Hezbollah Shi’ite fighters has helped Assad combat the mainly Sunni rebellion and shifted momentum in the two-year-old war. On Thursday, the United Nations said 93,000 people have died in the conflict.

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