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7 May, 2013 17:34

US to start arming Syrian rebels ‘shortly’

US to start arming Syrian rebels ‘shortly’

The Republican ranking member of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Tuesday that he expects the US will soon formally equip Syrian rebels with American arms.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) remarked to CBS News on Tuesday that the US may supply weaponry to opposition fighters in Syria embattled in the bloody war against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad that has claimed more than 70,000 lives, according to recent United Nations estimates.

US President Barack Obama has hinted that the US will consider using military action against the Syrian government if it can be proved that Assad deployed chemical weapons against his people during the two-year-old war, calling such a revelation a “game changer.” The US recently identified the use of chemical weapons in Syria but has yet to prove with complete certainty that Pres. Assad approved the use of chemical weapons against opposition fighters.

What we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don’t know how they were used, when they were used [or] who used them,” Obama said last week in an address from the White House. Days later, Carla Del Ponte of the UN commission investigating the alleged use of sarin gas said there are "strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” that rebels ordered the use of chemical weapons, but as recently as this week the White House said they were skeptical of that claim.

"The commission has not reached any conclusive findings,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney fired back on Monday, “The fact of the matter is that we are highly skeptical that the opposition has used chemical weapons.”

But as the US waits for confirmation to determine if Assad is guilty of using chemical weapons, Sen. Corker said that the White House will find other means to intervene and aid rebel soldiers.

"I do think we’ll be arming the opposition shortly," he told CBS "We’re doing a lot more there on the ground than really is known, but we do have to change the equation."

"I think you all know the moderate opposition groups that we support are not as good at fighting, they’re not as good as delivering humanitarian aid and we need to change the balance," Corker said.

"We've got to change the balance there and I do think we'll be arming the rebels soon.”

Just one day earlier, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) proposed in Washington legislation that will not just provide the Syrian opposition with arms but will also punish allies of Assad who attempt to assist against the rebels. "The Assad regime has crossed a red line that forces us to consider all options," Menendez said in a statement. "The greatest humanitarian crisis in the world is unfolding in and around Syria, and the US must play a role in tipping the scales toward opposition groups and working to build a free Syria."

Concerns have amounted as of late, however, over what influence the introduction of direct American aid will have overseas. Speaking to CBS, Sen. Corker said one main fear is that US-supplied arms will end up in the hands of opposition fighters who are anti-Assad but also anti-American, such as the al-Qaeda aligned al-Nusra Front.

"A nightmare would be al-Nusra, if you will gaining, control of Syria," Corker said. "That’s worse than Assad being there."