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U.S. nonlethal aid to Syrian rebels considered

Washington stopped all nonlethal military support to anti-Assad Syrian fighters when Islamist rebels seized warehouses of U.S. aid

Published: Updated:

Washington is considering resuming its nonlethal military aid to the Syrian opposition as Islamist rebels, which the United States feared would receive some of the aid, are proving to be more moderate, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Citing senior U.S. officials, the New York Times reported that Washington could resume its aid even if some of it ends up going to Islamist groups that are allied with the moderates. These groups have in recent days been battling against the al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Both Britain and the U.S. suspended aid to the Syrian rebel forces on Dec. 11, fearing that the aid might fall into the hands of hardline Islamists. This happened when warehouses of equipment were seized by the Islamic Front, an alliance of Islamist fighters who ceded from the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army.

The officials said their fears and doubts were eased when these Islamist rebels, including those from the Islamic Front, fought against ISIL, the newspaper reported.

It is said that ISIL is seeking to set up a Sunni religious state straddling Iraq and Syria.

However, these officials emphasized that no assistance would be directly funneled to the Islamic Front, who prefers Syria to be an Islamic state.

The officials said the aid would continue to be provided exclusively through the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the military wing of moderate, secular Syrian opposition.

“You have to take into account questions of how the SMC and the Islamic Front are interacting on the ground,” a senior administration official said.

He added: “There’s no way to say 100 percent that it would not end up in the hands of the Islamic Front.”

The situation has been complicated by the Islamic Front’s close ties with another powerful Islamist rebel group that has links to al-Qaeda, the al-Nusra Front.

Restoring U.S. aid is also meant to signal a political message, the officials said. Providing assistance again to anti-Assad rebels will, according to the official, send a message of American support at a time when opposition groups are threatening to boycott a Jan. 22 peace conference in Geneva.

The rebels fear that their participation in the conference, which aims to find a political solution to end the conflict, will only assist President Bashar al-Assad in his bid to keep power and discredit them at home.