WASHINGTON — The Obama administration could decide this week to approve lethal aid for Syrian rebels and will weigh the merits of a less likely move to send US airpower to enforce a no-fly zone over the nation ripped by two years of civil war, officials said Sunday.
White House meetings are planned as Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's forces are apparently poised for an attack on the key city of Homs, which could cut off armed opposition from the south of the country and clear a path for the regime from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast. Officials believe as many as 5,000 Hezbollah fighters are now in Syria helping the regime after it captured the town of Qusair near the Lebanese border last week.
Opposition leaders have warned Washington that their rebellion could face devastating, irreversible losses without greater support.
Secretary of State John Kerry postponed a planned trip Monday to Israel and three other Mideast countries to participate in White House discussions, said officials who weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. Any intervention would bring the US closer to a conflict.
US officials said President Barack Obama was leaning closer toward signing off on sending weapons to vetted, moderate rebel units. The US has spoken of possibly arming the opposition in recent months but has been hesitant because it doesn't want Al-Qaeda-linked and other extremists to end up with the weapons.
Obama already has ruled out any intervention that would require US troops on the ground. Other options such as deploying US air power to ground the regime's jets, gunships and other aerial assets are now being more seriously debated, the officials said, while cautioning that a no-fly zone or any other action involving US military deployments in Syria are far less likely right now.
The president has declared chemical weapons use by the Assad regime a "red line" for more forceful US action. American allies including France and Britain have said they've determined with near certitude that Syrian forces have used low levels of sarin in several attacks, but the administration is still studying the evidence. – AP