United States President Barack Obama is close to approving arms for the rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, officials told the Associated Press on Sunday.
The sources said that the Obama administration could decide this week to approve lethal aid for the rebels and are also scheduled to weigh the merits of a less likely move to send in U.S. aircraft to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria.
According to the officials, White House meetings on the issue are planned over the coming days. Opposition leaders have warned Washington that their rebellion could face devastating and irreversible losses without greater support, prompting the U.S. to consider drastic action, the report said.
U.S. officials said Obama was leaning closer toward signing off on sending weapons to vetted, moderate rebel units.
To date, President Obama has only committed non-lethal aid, despite lawmakers’ calls for more forceful action from the U.S. as the civil war there intensifies and threatens neighboring countries.
One of the reasons for the hesitation in arming rebels is that they include radical, jihadist groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Al-Nusra is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force and declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo. The group was recently blacklisted by the United Nations Security Council.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a bill that would approve sending weapons to moderate rebel forces. The committee’s chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., stressed that “now is the time” to act to tip the balance toward resistance fighters.
U.S. Senator John McCain last week repeated his call for his country to take action in the civil war in Syria.
“The longer we wait to take action, the more action we will have to take,” the Arizona Republican said, noting that there are no easy options to ending Syria’s civil war, which has killed 80,000 according to UN figures.
McCain has long been a vocal opponent of Obama’s Syrian policy.