FREE SYRIAN Army fighters pose on a tank 370 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters)
WASHINGTON - The senior Democrat on the US House of
Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee is pushing President Barack Obama's
administration to train and arm some Syrian rebels, in addition to providing
Representative Eliot Engel will introduce a bill
on Monday that would authorize Washington to provide assistance "including
limited lethal equipment" to carefully vetted members of the Syrian opposition,
aides and activists aware of Engel's plans said on Sunday.
pledged non-lethal aid to Syria's rebels, but Obama has so far refused to give
them arms, arguing that it is difficult to prevent the weapons from falling into
the hands of militants who could use them against Western targets.
push by Engel, a New York Democrat, which comes days before Obama is due to
visit the Middle East, could strengthen the resolve of some US legislators to
do more to end the bloodshed in Syria.
A handful of Republican
legislators, including Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio, have been pressing
for various forms of US military aid
to the rebels.
The European Union
also has been debating what aid is appropriate for the Syrian opposition. Other
EU governments rebuffed efforts by France and Britain on Friday to lift an arms
embargo to help opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, although they
asked foreign ministers to discuss it again this week.
Engel sent a "Dear
Colleague" letter on Friday to members of the foreign affairs committee seeking
support for the bill and citing the estimated 70,000 Syrians who have died, 1
million refugees and 2.5 million people internally displaced since the rebellion
against Assad began two years ago.
"It is time for us to develop a
comprehensive approach to stopping the carnage," Engel said in the
Although he acknowledged there are risks to arming the rebels,
Engel said providing military aid to Syria's opposition would bring the
humanitarian disaster to an end and help ensure that the United States has a
constructive relationship with Syria's new government after the end of Assad's
Engel's legislation would also authorize the administration to
increase humanitarian assistance to Syrians affected by the two-year-long civil
war and begin planning for the country's future after Assad.
Syrian opposition is increasingly seen as the only leverage that foreign powers
have in trying to support the uprising against Assad.