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U.S. starts sending arms for Syrian rebels: media


08:17, June 28, 2013

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WASHINGTON, June 27 (Xinhua) -- The Central Intelligence Agency ( CIA) has started sending weapons to Jordan with a view to arming small groups of vetted Syrian rebels within a month, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

"The CIA is expected to spend up to three weeks bringing light arms and possibly antitank missiles to Jordan," the newspaper said in its report, citing diplomats and U.S. officials briefed on the plans.

"The agency plans to spend roughly two weeks more vetting an initial group of fighters and making sure they know how to use the weapons that they are given, clearing the way for the first U.S.- armed rebels to enter the fight," the report said.

It said the shipments, training plus a parallel push to mobilize arms deliveries from European and Arab allies are being timed to allow "a concerted push" by the rebels starting by early August, as the rebels are losing ground in their fighting against the government forces.

U.S. President Barack Obama authorized the shipment of small arms and ammunition to the Syrian rebels in a new covert plan disclosed earlier this month, in a break with his long-held non- lethal-aid-only policy.

Washington concluded on June 13 that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, against the rebels, resulting in up to 150 deaths, crossing a "red line" set by Obama in his handling of the Syrian conflict that has claimed more than 93,000 lives.

"Talks are under way with other countries, including France, about pre-positioning European-procured weapons in Jordan," the Journal said. "Saudi Arabia is expected to provide shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, known as Manpads, to a small number of handpicked fighters, as few as 20 at first."

It said Washington would monitor the effort to reduce the risk of the Manpads falling into the hands of Islamists, who are among the ranks of the rebels.

"Up to a few hundred of the fighters will enter Syria under the program each month, starting in August," the paper said. "At that rate, U.S. and Saudi officials believe it would take four to five months before there are enough rearmed and trained moderate fighters to make a meaningful difference against Mr. Assad's forces and their Hezbollah allies."

Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group in Lebanon, has sent fighters to help the Syrian government headed by President Bashar al-Assad.

The CIA had begun to store Soviet-era weapons, including ammunition for Kalashnikov rifles and armor-piercing antitank missiles, even before Obama decided to provide military support to the rebels, the Journal said.

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