WASHINGTON - The United States has begun distributing some weapons to the Syrian rebels, a spokesman for the Syrian Coalition of groups opposed to President Bashar Assad said on Tuesday, after months of reported delays.
White House officials suggested in June that President Barack Obama had decided to provide military aid to the Syrian rebels, but in the months since, rebel leaders and US lawmakers have said no lethal assistance has arrived.
"The US is distributing non-lethal aid and ... some lethal assistance as well to the SMC (Supreme Military Council)," Saleh told a news conference, referring to the council that oversees operations of rebels loyal to General Salim Idriss.
The United States is providing lethal assistance "because they are sure that the mechanisms that the SMC has established are well tested and they will be sure that the weapons are not falling into the wrong hands," Saleh said.
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He apparently referred to Washington's concerns that US arms could end up benefiting radical Islamist groups, such as the al Nusra Front, active in northern Syria.
Saleh's comments at a Washington news conference may be the first public indication that US-provided military goods such as arms or ammunition are actually moving to anti-Assad forces.
One US government source said it was "unlikely" that any US-supplied arms were on the ground in the hands of Syrian rebels at this time, while not dismissing the possibility that such aid was in the works.
Separately, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that Washington was trying to upgrade its support for the Syrian opposition.
"It is ramping up, but I can tell you that many of the items that people have complained were not getting (to) them are now getting to them," Kerry said in a Google+ Hangout interview. He declined to say what military items were arriving.
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