Direct aid

Injured Syrian arrives at hospital for medical attention.
Injured Syrian arrives at hospital for medical attention.

DAMASCUS — Syria has dismissed as “a caravan of lies” claims it used chemical weapons after the US said it would give the rebels “direct military aid”.

President Obama made the decision after his administration concluded Syrian forces under Bashar al-Assad were using chemical weapons, a spokesman said.

A rebel leader, Salim Idris, told the BBC it was a “very important step”.

But Syria’s foreign ministry said the US had used “fabricated information” on chemical weapons to justify the move.

Washington was resorting to “cheap tactics” to justify Obama’s decision to arm the rebels, said a statement from the ministry.

On the ground, there were reports of the fiercest fighting in months in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.

Two years of conflict had killed at least 93,000 people, the UN said on Thursday, at a current rate of 5,000 people a month. More than 1,700 children under the age of 10 have died, it added.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to Obama, said the president had made the decision to increase assistance, including “military support”, to the rebels’ Supreme Military Council and Syrian Opposition Coalition.

The US was “comfortable” working with Gen Idris, leader of the SMC, and aimed to isolate some of the more extremist elements of the opposition, such as Sunni militant group al-Nusra, he added.

Rhodes did not give details about the military aid other than to say it would be “different in scope and scale to what we have provided before”.

Until now, the US has limited its help to rebel forces by providing rations and medical supplies.

Administration officials have been quoted by US media as saying it will most likely include sending small arms and ammunition. The New York Times quoted US officials as saying Washington could provide anti-tank weapons.

The CIA is expected to co-ordinate delivery of the military equipment and train the rebel soldiers in how to use it. (BBC)

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