Fri, Aug 03, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Obama signs covert order backing Syria rebels, reports say

AFP, WASHINGTON

US President Barack Obama has signed a covert document authorizing US support for Syrian rebels locked in a battle to overthrow beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, reports said on Wednesday.

The directive was contained in a “finding” — a device authorizing clandestine action by the CIA, NBC and CNN said, citing unidentified sources.

White House officials declined to comment on the reports, but did not specifically rule out the idea that Washington was providing more intelligence support to Syrian rebels than had previously been made public.

Washington has previously said that it is offering medical and communications assistance to Syrian rebels, but declined to supply arms, warning that it would be counter-productive to further “weaponize” the conflict.

Officials have confided they are wary of sending armaments to groups about which little is known and who some experts fear may eventually display extremist tendencies.

Reports of an increased US role with Syrian rebels came as the violent showdown in Syria appeared to be edging closer to an endgame, and clashes raged between government and opposition forces in Damascus and Aleppo.

They also coincided with rising political pressure on the White House to demonstrate more support for the opposition in Syria, despite US reluctance to become more directly involved in another Middle Eastern war.

It was not clear when Obama signed the secret order. However, there was no indication that Washington had changed its overarching policy of not directly providing arms to the rebels.

Washington has been frustrated by Russian and Chinese opposition to direct punitive action against al-Assad in the UN Security Council and appears now to be seeking ways outside the world body to pressure his regime.

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