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2 May, 2013 18:56

Hagel: US administration mulls arming Syrian rebels

The US is rethinking arming Syrian opposition fighters, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. Speaking at a Pentagon news conference, he stressed the Obama administration is considering a range of options.

Asked directly if the administration was reconsidering its opposition to that option, Hagel said "yes". "Arming the rebels — that's an option," he said. "We must continue to look at options."

“These are options that must be considered with partners, with the international community: What is possible, what can help accomplish these objectives,” Hagel said.

At the same time, he stressed that he has not personally decided whether it would be wise to provide weapons to the rebels.

Meanwhile President Barack Obama said on Thursday that he is considering “all options” in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

"As we've seen evidence of further bloodshed, potential use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, what I've said is that we're going to look at all options," he said at a press conference during a visit to Mexico.

"We are continually evaluating the situation on the ground, working with our international partners to find the best way to move a political transition."

The statement by Hagel coincided with negotiations between the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and UN chief Ban Ki-moon on “possible diplomatic moves to end" the Syria conflict.

While diplomats declined to comment on the meeting with the secretary-general, Reuters reports that a dispute between Russia and the United States over Syria has left the council paralyzed.

Russia insists on an investigation into reports of the use of chemical weapons near Aleppo, Syria, in March, but said that the UN’s demand to check all facilities in the country “is incorrect” and “undermines the goal of an immediate investigation” according to Lavrov.

“We insist on satisfying the specific request from the government of Syria for an investigation into this incident,” Lavrov told a news conference in Budapest. “[It] is very reminiscent of the resolutions that the UN Security Council was passing on Iraq.”

President Obama has repeatedly called the use of chemical weapons in Syria a "red line" that could prompt US action if crossed.

Meanwhile, almost simultaneously reports emerged about an alleged massacre by "state forces and militants loyal to President Assad” who stormed Syria's coastal village of Baida, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The watchdog claimed that at least 50 people were killed "including women and children" and suggested the final toll may exceed 100 dead. Many of those killed were executed by gunfire or knives, and other bodies were found burned, the Observatory alleged on Thursday.

Independent researcher and author, Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich, told RT it is no wonder the US is going down the path of arming the Syrian rebels directly. She believes it to be a natural progression from what has been taking place in the two years since the start of the uprising.

“I think they’re disappointed that the Assad regime has not fallen fast enough and it had always been the intention not only to dismantle the Syrian army and render it useless, but for Assad to leave and this hasn’t happened. So, in order to boost support for the intervention, they need to come up with all sorts of stories, such as the use of chemical weapons.”