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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Poll on attitudes to sending arms and military supplies to Syrian rebels

"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 80.

    "War is Peace" - George Orwell's, '1984.'

    This definitely seems to be the case at the moment. By all means give humanitarian aid, enforce stricter trade embargo's but arming a group of revengeful untrained activists will only lead to more deaths and it will throw any chance of peace talks out the window. US, look at the state of the region, there is no point fighting fire with fire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    When/if Assad goes, then the real dirty stuff will start as all the different Islamic groups turn on each other for supremacy.
    If we had any concern for Syrian civilians we would havev supported Assad.
    Millions are dying to empower Israel!

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Go on USA. . . . .Fuel that fire and bring on more grief for yourselves and the likes of us. . . . . .Best buddies? not for us your not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    The reality is Assad's forces began firing on people who were peacefully protesting in the beginning, he is using all the weapons @ his disposal (including airper & possibly CW to slaughter rebels & civilians alike), I have no problem in equalising the scales by supplying CIA vetted rebels with advanced weapons inorder to prevent Assad from killing innocent women & children who only want freedom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    This is a war built on lies, will all know that nothing will stop the US starting Afghanistan part 4 or is it 5?

    We will be cleaning up this mess for years to come!

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    First off, there is no conclusive evidence given as yet to the use of chemical weapons, second the rebels have also been accused of human rights infringements and third, we do not know clearly who the rebels comprise of (rather like the Libyan opposition, we hear little of the turmoil we have left there). There is a constant agenda in the West for 'regime change' with only puppets put in place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    The West needs to learn to stay out of these wars. To arm the rebels is arming Al-Qaeda and to support Assad is to support a brutal dictator. It's heads you win tails I loose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    65. coastwalker - The Philippines does not have an Islamic government. It is very Catholic. It does have a peace accord with Muslim separatists. However, this is mainly due to the fact that they can hardly control their porous border.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    @coastwalker I didn't know the government in the Catholic nation of Philippines was Islamic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    It was a bit off that, the Assad regime trying to blow up its own prime-minister so they can apportion blame to the rebels. What is the world coming to?

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Oh dear, which Country will be the next to have it's National Government undermined by foriegn intervention? As this is a beeb website with selective censorship we can't throw stones - But hey let's have some keeping beaks out of other Nations affairs eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    The problem with America is that they need a war to fight to justify their over inflated military spending. If all the innocent people that are dying in Syria had any common sense they would leave the country by any means possible until the 'civil war' is over.
    I don't often comment but I truly feel the only real problem with the world is that we're all too involved in each others business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    60.ravenmorpheus2k - Yes, I can see you're a great fan of talks. The terrorists don't even want to talk to Assad. China walked away from the table as they see the Dalai Lama as a terrorist.

    Yes old news, just like WW2; but we still remember it.

    I haven't heard you complaining about Saudi, UAE, Yemen and Bahrain with their evil regimes. That is very modern, yet we support them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Peace and talks is the solution of war. The peace talks and war stop agreement need to be started in a rapid way between syrian government and opposition parties

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Some posters keep referring to the Arab Spring, situation in Syria today is everyrhing but spring.
    Verious groups fighting in Syria have absolutely nothing in common, but their opposition to Assad.
    It also appears foreigners' enthusiasim for the continuation of this horrible situation is much greater than the Syrians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    An Islamic government isn't necessarily our enemy, see the Philippines or Pakistan. Also it is not our right to impose our way of living on other people even if we disprove of their behavior. Persuasion is better than force. So looking at the basket case that Syria is now, I would personally give the rebels support to end the conflict quickly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Wardrobe sales in Syria will rise when the Salafist/Wahhabi we are considering supporting win through.
    That's where the 10% of the population that are Christian will have to hide to practise their belief.
    Talking of oppression, look at Bahrain where America's 5th fleet is based.
    The majority Shiites are treated as second class citizens, why aren't we supporting them in their revolt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    So now the USA wants to give weapons to an Al Qaeda backed rag tag extremist rebel group in the hope of bringing down a legal government they disapprove of. This sounds like a great way of bolstering the anti western extremism currently expanding in the middle east , with Iran at its centre and Russia as its mentor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    So the US are happy to arm rebel groups in order to help the innocent civilians?

    The Syrian death toll after 2 years of civil war 70,000 - many fighters in the war.

    The death toll of the Somalian famine - 260,000.....we didn't see the US flooding money and efforts into the aid for that one...

    But of course....they don't want any political gain - they just want to help the innocent people!


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