The United States has begun distributing some weapons to the Syrian rebels, a spokesman for the Syrian Coalition of groups opposed to President Bashar Al-Assad said on Tuesday, according to the Reuters news agency.
White House officials suggested in June that President Barack Obama had decided to provide military aid to the Syrian rebels, but in the months since, rebel leaders and U.S. lawmakers have said no lethal assistance has arrived.
Subsequent unconfirmed reports later in June said that the Central Intelligence Agency had begun moving weapons to Jordan from a network of secret warehouses and would start arming small groups of vetted Syrian rebels within a month.
"The U.S. is distributing non-lethal aid and ... some lethal assistance as well to the SMC (Supreme Military Council)," spokesman Khaled Saleh told a news conference, referring to the council that oversees operations of rebels loyal to General Salim Idriss.
The United States is providing lethal assistance "because they are sure that the mechanisms that the SMC has established are well tested and they will be sure that the weapons are not falling into the wrong hands," Saleh said.
He apparently referred to Washington's concerns that U.S. arms could end up benefiting radical Islamist groups, such as the Al-Nusra Front, which is active in northern Syria and which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
Saleh's comments at a Washington news conference may be the first public indication that U.S.-provided military goods such as arms or ammunition are actually moving to anti-Assad forces.
One U.S. government source said it was "unlikely" that any U.S.-supplied arms were on the ground in the hands of Syrian rebels at this time, while not dismissing the possibility that such aid was in the works.
Separately, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that Washington was trying to upgrade its support for the Syrian opposition.
"It is ramping up, but I can tell you that many of the items that people have complained were not getting (to) them are now getting to them," Kerry said in a Google+ Hangout interview, according to Reuters. He declined to say what military items were arriving.
Rebel spokesman Saleh, who is based in Turkey, spoke at a news conference called to urge the U.S. Congress to authorize Obama's proposal for limited military strikes in Syria following a chemical weapons attack on rebel areas outside Damascus on August 21 that the United States has blamed on Assad's forces.
Saleh said rebel military leaders were coordinating with the countries that might participate in a U.S.-led strike.
Obama has since asked Congress to delay votes on authorizing military strikes against Syria in order to give a Russian proposal that would require Syria to give up its chemical weapons a chance.
Saleh said the Supreme Military Council also had a plan to derive tactical benefits from the strikes if they do take place, such as by securing areas that are hit.