US rethinks arming Syria rebels, says Chuck Hagel


Hagel: 'You're always... going to continue to look at options'

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has acknowledged his government is no longer ruling out arming Syrian rebels.

It is the first time a senior US official has said openly that the US is reconsidering its opposition to supplying weapons to rebel forces.

President Barack Obama - who rejected such a proposal last year - said the US was now looking at "all options".

Meanwhile, allegations are emerging that Syrian forces carried out summary executions near the city of Banias.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said it was trying to verify reports that troops had killed at least 50 people, including women and children, in the north-western village of al-Bayda.

The activist group monitors human rights violations on both sides of the conflict via a network of contacts across Syria.

Heavy fighting erupted on Thursday morning between government forces and rebels near the village.

'Best way'

As the fighting drags on in Syria, the debate about what the US should do has intensified in Washington.

Speaking in Washington, Mr Hagel confirmed the US was reconsidering its opposition to providing weapons to rebels, but stressed that no decision had been made yet.

"Arming the rebels - that's an option," he told reporters.

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"You look at and rethink all options. It doesn't mean you do or you will. These are options that must be considered with the international community: what is possible, what can help accomplish [our] objectives."

Mr Hagel made the comments at a joint news conference with British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

Mr Hammond said the UK had so far been unable to provide weapons because of an EU ban on arming the rebels.

But "we will look at the situation when that ban expires in a few weeks' time," he added.

Later on Thursday, President Obama said during a visit to Mexico that the US was "continually evaluating the situation on the ground... to find the best way to move a political transition".

"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," Mr Obama added.

With no appetite for direct military intervention, many US officials increasingly feel that arming the rebels is now the least worst option, the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington reports.

US allies such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia are already providing weapons to various groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

The pressure to act has intensified in recent days after emerging evidence that Syria has used chemical weapons such as the nerve gas sarin.

President Obama last week promised a "vigorous investigation" into the issue, warning that it would be a "game changer" for US policy if the reports were to be proved true.

But Mr Hagel and his British counterpart indicated that existing evidence of alleged chemical weapon was not sufficient to trigger an international response.

Mr Hammond said the public still remembered that claims of weapons of mass destruction, which led to the Iraq invasion in 2003, turned out to be incorrect.

"There is a very strong view that we have to have very clear, very high-quality evidence before we make plans and act on that evidence," he said.

"If there were future use of chemical agents, that would generate new opportunities for us to establish a clear evidence of use to a legal standard of evidence."

The Syrian government has dismissed claims that its forces have used chemical weapons, saying that the Western accusations "do not have any credibility".

More than 70,000 people have been killed since fighting between Syrian forces and rebels erupted in March 2011.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    The agenda has been clear from the start, the purpose is destabilize the whole region.
    The filth behind the wanton destruction of yet another soverign country has no qualms how many die or are maimed.

    The 'HYS' on this on going 'debate' on arming terrorists is for what purpose do you think?

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    95. ravenmorpheus2k - "I don't support us saying "leave them to it" while any country oppresses or murders it's populace". Your words. That is exactly what China is doing in Tibet, and what you do not want us in there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    People often wondered what would have happened in Iraq if we had not gone in but merely 'supported' a people's revolution. Well now we know, Syria is an almost exact match for Iraq So then all those marched with the 'not in my name' banner, over to you please to provide solution...good luck.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Midway Battle.
    You can put your sarcasm where the sun don't shine!
    By weakening and internally dividing those nations surrounding Israel empowers Israel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    We need to be very careful who we support here. Every time the West interferes with what's going on in the Middle East, an otherwise stable country (albeit despot) becomes very unstable with extremists taking advantage of the power vacuum.
    All religious minorities had to run for their lives from Iraq and the 'Arab Spring' countries are not doing much better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    85.ravenmorpheus2k - I'm not insinuating anything. You're proving it all yourself.

    You don't support "leaving them to it", but that is exactly what you are saying with China & Tibet.

    Am I? Because I said we don't need to intervene militarily because it hasn't escalated to a civil war?

    I didn't say "leave them to it" at all. Go twist someone else's comments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Interesting piece from Bruce Stokes on the BBC news website today about the lack of support for arming the militants in Syria among the general public of Syria's neighbours and Western countries.

    Quite remarkable really, that despite the concerted media campaign to present the militants in Syria as noble freedom fighters, most people are wise enough to know what's really going on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    tell you what, lets just give EVERYONE guns and bombs!? F.F.S!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    85.ravenmorpheus2k - I'm not insinuating anything. You're proving it all yourself.

    You don't support "leaving them to it", but that is exactly what you are saying with China & Tibet.

    It's a shame you don't understand the sarcasm in 81.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Fighting a war by proxy.

    Obama's foreign policy has been a disaster but people still think the sun shines out his ***, funny that.

    Did they learn nothing from arming the Taliban in Afghanistan....oh no they are thick, of course they didn't.

    And we'll blindly follow their misguided policy which is shameful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    @MidwayBattle. Numer 56

    ---This is now a Shia/Sunni conflict being played out by Iran & the GCC (Gulf cooperation council). Stay out----

    You hit the nail on the head there! This needs to be resolved by Islamic nations. Involvement by us is only going to increase anti Western sentiment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    America, America wont you ever learn your lesson?? How can you arm a rebel group when we dont know exactly who you are arming?? Are they real people of syria? are they al-quieda or other 'terrorist'?? I think we the west should step away and let them sort out their own country, altho the use of chemical weapons sickens me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    87.Knut Largerson - "Were you even born then?"

    I was very much alive and interested in World Affairs even then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    62. Cozyjoker
    "59.Knut Largerson - (1983) December 4 - An A-6 Intruder and an A-7 Corsair II were shot down while attacking Syrian army's SAM batteries in Lebanon. The pilot of the A-6 was killed while his navigator was captured by Syria"


    That's nearly thirty years ago.

    Were you even born then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Have we and the Americans learnt nothing from our past mistakes?The CIA gave the Afghans weapons and taught them how to make bombs during the Soviet invasion in the early 80s. And that knowledge is now killing our troops on the front line. Arming the rebels in Syria will have exactly the same effect and our young soldiers will be the ones paying the price.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    @68.Cozyjoker - Yes I support talks, where appropriate, and unfortunately yes they don't always work. Do you have a better first step? Or even a valid point?

    Also I don't support us saying "leave them to it" while any country oppresses or murders it's populace. So stop trying to insinuate I am picking my "good causes".

    Feel free to carry on spouting rubbish like in post 81 though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    “The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.” (W. B. Yeats)

    You want a transition to democracy, Mr Hagel, so to be credible by your own standards you need to debate a clear and effective plan to thwart those ‘intense and passionate’ rebels who are flat against democracy in Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Millions are dying to empower Israel!


    Why yes, the Israelis are delighted to have Al Qaeda on their borders. They are overjoyed that the Muslim Brotherhood (the organisation that gave birth to Hamas) have taken over Egypt. The Israelis were especially thankful that Libya's conflict meant all the weapons got smuggled into Gaza.

    Yes, Israel is certainly feeling "empowered"


  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    There are Europeans and Americans in Syria fighting with Al-Qaeda. So how long until those same weapons are used on us or our allies?

    Since when is car bombing of civilians the actions of an army?

    Ask yourself why is this happening in Syria when all of the M/E regimes are corrupt dictatorships.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    I suppose the people supporting the terrorists in Syria, are also supporting the IRA in Ireland?

    The amount of human rights abuses by the British government, the firing upon of peaceful protesters (Bloody Sunday) and the torture committed.


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