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US Senate committee votes to arm Syrian rebels

Published time: May 22, 2013 06:09
AFP Photo / Dimitar Dilkoff

AFP Photo / Dimitar Dilkoff

A US Senate committee had passed a bill that would allow, if signed for the Obama administration to supply arms to Syrian opposition — a move that could threaten the entire region if these weapons end up in terrorist cells operating on the ground.

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations 15-3 vote showed bipartisan support among US politicians for arming the rebels.

It remains uncertain if the full Senate will vote on the legislation that calls to “provide defense articles, defense services, and military training” directly to the opposition on the ground Syria who “have been properly and fully vetted and share common values and interests with the United States.”

“I don’t think that this resolution, this bill will gain traction in the House of Representatives, and if it does we will have to wait and see if Mr. Obama signs this bill,” historian Gerald Horne told RT.

Horne believes that the Israeli lobby in Washington might sway US politicians including President Obama.

“The Israeli lobby in particular has been quite energetic and quite active in regard of lobbying for aid to the rebels, which is quite curious since if these rebels come to power, I dare say that Israel will have many sleepless nights,” Horne says.

The language of the proposed legislature is vague but it suggests the sale of small arms but specifies that “no anti-aircraft defensive systems” would be provided.

Despite fear that sending arms to the rebels might backfire if al-Qaeda linked cells get a hold of them, US lawmakers are adamant that weapons will be supplied to those groups “committed to rejecting terrorism and extremist ideologies.”

Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky has voted against the bill, warning “You will be funding today the allies of al Qaeda,” Paul said adding “It is an irony you cannot overcome,” quotes the Washington Times.

New Jersey democrat and co-author of the bill, Senator Robert Menenedez addressed such concerns and stressed that the proposed bill has in place a “tough vetting mechanism” to prevent terrorist from obtaining US arms. "Vital national interests are at stake and we cannot watch from the sidelines," Menenedez concluded.

In the meantime, US Secretary of State John Kerry is on a mission to Jordan to meet with representatives from 11 nations, as part of a US-Russian roadmap to end Syria's violence.

If the bill is to be adopted it Russia in the past has argued that arming the rebels would contradict international law.

Russia has repeatedly said that its stance on Syria arises from its concern for the Syrian people rather than the fate of Assad and that his forced departure would make the situation worse. Moscow insists that only direct talks between parties involved in the conflict – the government and the opposition – can help to resolve the ongoing crisis. It also criticized some players in the international arena for providing support and arming Syrian rebels.

“International law does not permit the supply of arms to non-governmental actors and our point of view is that it is a violation of international law,” Lavrov said in March.

The latest vote Horne argues “will hamper diplomacy efforts but I don’t think it will gut diplomacy efforts” because the Obama administration would like to reset with Moscow and then “pivot towards China.”

At the Friends of Syria meeting in Amman, which backs the Syrian opposition, Kerry will try to build consensus for an international peace conference next month in Geneva. The combined US-Russian effort want to bring together the Syrian opposition and the government for talks on a new transitional authority. 

Reuters / Ammar Abdullah