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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Hagel: US Rethinking Arming Syrian Rebels

May 02, 2013

by VOA News

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the Obama administration is rethinking its opposition to arming rebels fighting the Syrian government.

Hagel told a Pentagon news conference Thursday the Obama administration is looking at a range of options but that no decisions had been reached.

The announcement comes as Syrian government troops backed by warplanes pushed into Sunni-majority districts of the central city of Homs in an effort to oust rebels.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday pro-government forces had recaptured the Wadi al-Sayeh neighborhood.

The Observatory warned that if forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad capture the neighborhoods of Old Homs, the potential for sectarian attacks would increase.

An activist with the opposition Syrian Revolution General Commission in Homs, who uses the pseudonym Abu Rami, told VOA the Syria government had laid siege to the neighborhood for days.

"The Syrian regime, including Shabiha [pro-government militia] and a lot of troops, are trying to break into Wadi al-Sayeh district, because it is the border that splits [government-controlled] Karam Shamsham from Old Homs, which is still in the hands of the Free Syrian Army."

Abu Rami said for the last two months pro-government forces have been using a highly destructive weapon that he described as oxygen tubes filled with explosives. His account cannot be independently verified.

Homs is Syria's third-largest city, located along a highway about halfway between the capital, Damascus, to the south and the commercial center of Aleppo to the north.

Also Thursday, fierce clashes were reported for the first time in the Alawite-majority coastal region of Banias, west of Homs. The Banias region is predominantly Alawite, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam and the sect of Assad, but has several Sunni villages to the south.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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