US accuses Syrian govt of using chemicals, decides to arm rebels

DAMASCUS, June 14: The United States on Friday sharply toughened its line on Syria, promising rebels weapons for the first time, after saying it had evidence the regime had used chemical weapons, a charge Damascus dismissed on Friday as “lies.”

However, US officials ruled out imposing a no-fly zone, an idea they said earlier was under consideration.

The harder US line dismayed Moscow, which had been working with Washington to organise a peace conference to try to end the 27-month conflict, and which described as “unconvincing” the intelligence on alleged use of the nerve agent sarin.

It also prompted expressions of concern from neutral countries such as Sweden, which warned of the risks of an arms race between the rival foreign supporters of the regime and the rebels.

President Barack Obama’s administration announced late on Thursday that it had reviewed intelligence reports and concluded that Syrian regime forces had used banned weapons, including sarin, in attacks that killed up to 150 people.

But Damascus dismissed Washington’s accusation as “a statement full of lies” and asked how it could continue to be regarded as an honest broker in UN-backed preparations for the proposed peace conference.

“The American decision to arm armed terrorist groups demonstrates... the direct involvement of the United States in the Syrian bloodbath,” state news agency SANA quoted a foreign ministry official as saying. It “raises serious questions about their good faith when it comes to finding a political solution in Syria”, the official added.

The New York Times cited US officials it did not identify as saying that shipments to the rebels would include small arms and ammunition, and anti-tank but not anti-aircraft weapons.

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