President Barack Obama authorized the release of as much as $10 million in additional aid to rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday, as calls continued for the U.S. to arm the rebels.
The president, in a directive to the secretaries of state and defense, said the U.S. would draw on the inventories of government agencies to provide “nonlethal commodities and services” as well as food and medical supplies, Bloomberg reported.
“The humanitarian crisis has gotten worse” in Syria, Obama told reporters at the White House before starting a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The president said he and Ban share the view that the conflict there is “at a critical juncture.”
Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, said he will introduce legislation to allow the U.S. to provide weapons to the Syrian opposition.
“The time has come, in some form, to provide military aid,” to Syrian rebels, Menendez said at a committee hearing, according to Bloomberg. The chairman also proposed that the U.S. give Syrian rebels training and intelligence on the Assad regime’s assets.
"Shouldn't we do something to prevent this massive slaughter that's going on?" said Senator John McCain during a heated exchange that ended with him walking out of the hearing, as Elizabeth Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, was replying to one of his questions.
The administration is discussing different ways to step up support for rebels who are demanding more U.S. involvement in the two-year conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people.
The UK and France are pushing to lift a European Union arms embargo on Syria and already supply rebels with military-style equipment such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.
Syrian opposition leaders renewed their appeals for arms at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, but the White House has been reluctant to do more because weapons could end up in the hands of Islamic terrorists.
A statement on Wednesday by the head of Syria's jihadist Al-Nusra Front pledging allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri will only increase Western doubts about arming the rebels.
The statement came several days after leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged rebels to fight to establish an Islamic state in Syria.
Islamist rebel groups such as the Al-Nusra Front, which has links to Al-Qaeda, have eschewed the main opposition National Coalition.
Al-Nusra is one of 13 factions in the radical Islamist rebel council that announced its secession from the main opposition force and declared its own Islamic state in Aleppo.