U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned against the United States arming rebels in Syria, saying such a move could inadvertently lead to support for the Al Qaeda and Hamas terror groups.
AFP reported that senior leaders of both groups, which Washington classifies as terrorist organizations, have expressed their support for the Syrian rebels who have taken up arms against the regime of embattled President Bashar Assad.
The French news agency quoted Clinton as having told CBS News in an interview from Morocco on Sunday, “We really don’t know who it is that would be armed.”
Clinton noted that Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri has expressed support for the Syrian rebels and added, “Are we supporting Al Qaeda in Syria? Hamas is now supporting the opposition. Are we supporting Hamas in Syria?”
She was quoted as having added that she remains “incredibly sympathetic to the calls that somebody do something” about the crackdown that rights groups say has left more than 7,600 people dead.
“Sometimes, overturning brutal regimes takes time and costs lives. I wish it weren't so,” she said.
Clinton said Syria “is not Libya, where you had a base of operations in Benghazi, where you had people who were representing the entire opposition” to Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi.
She said that while U.S. officials have met some leaders of the Syrian National Council, they are not inside Syria proper and added, “You’re not going to bring tanks over the borders of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. That’s not going to happen.”
While the U.S. and other Western powers have called on Assad to step down, Clinton said the Syrian strongman has “very, very strong friends, if you look at Russia, China and Iran, who are in there determined to keep Assad because he does their bidding, he buys their arms, he sells them oil.”
Clinton’s remarks come after last week she said that Syria’s opposition forces will “somehow” manage to arm themselves to defeat Assad.
“There will be increasingly capable opposition forces. They will from somewhere, somehow, find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures,” Clinton told journalists in London.
She also said she is “betting against” Assad's staying in power.
Last week, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, urged international cooperation to help supply anti-Assad rebels with weapons and other aid.
"The United States doesn't have to directly ship weapons to the opposition, but there are a whole lot of things that can be done" through groups such as the Arab League, McCain told reporters.