Syrian Rebels To Get 1st Direct U.S. Support As $8M In Medical Supplies

By: CBS News (Posted by Josh Mabry)
By: CBS News (Posted by Josh Mabry)
The first shipment of U.S. aid to the armed Syrian rebels was being delivered Tuesday to the opposition Supreme Military Council (SMC).

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian fire fighters extinguishing burning cars after a car bomb exploded in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April. 29, 2013. State-run Syrian TV says the country's prime minister has escaped an assassination attempt when a bomb went off near his convoy. The TV says Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi was unhurt in the attack in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh. (AP Photo/SANA)

(CBS News) The first shipment of U.S. aid to the armed Syrian rebels was being delivered Tuesday to the opposition Supreme Military Council (SMC). It includes $8 million in medical supplies and ready-to-eat military food rations. State Department officials are overseeing the transfer of goods on the ground.

The Obama administration promised this aid two months ago to the SMC, which is led by Syrian defector, Gen. Salim Idris. So while the administration argues it has been helping the rebels, CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan reports that help takes quite a while to reach the intended recipients.

The U.S. pledged $60 million in February to be used for training and non-lethal aid to the SMC; $8 million of that went to aid the armed rebels. A request made by Gen. Idris for chemical weapons training and gas masks has not been filled, though the White House acknowledged last week that sarin gas has "very likely" been used by the Syrian regime on at least two occasions.

On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden met ministers from six different Arab countries at an Arab League meeting held in Washington. At least two of the countries participating in that meeting, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have acknowledged providing financial assistance and arms to various armed Syrian rebel groups.

A U.S. official told CBS News that during the meeting, the U.S. reiterated the need for all military assistance to be funneled through the Supreme Military Council. The U.S. is concerned that some Arab governments are supporting rebels with ties to Islamic extremist groups.

Gen. Idris has requested military training for his fighters. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, has publicly endorsed that idea. The White House has been reluctant to provide any military support out of fear that arms or training could benefit extremists.

During a March interview, General Idris told CBS News he could guarantee that arms would remain within his chain of command and not fall into the hands of extremists including those with ties to Al Qaeda. Republican Senators McCain and Graham have advocated direct military intervention. The White House has reviewed a few options - including a no fly zone and bombing Syrian planes and runways - but the President is reluctant to take any action that could open the door to the further commitment of U.S. troops.

Following yesterday's meeting, the State Department released a readout of Secretary Kerry's meeting with the Arab ministers. It said that they discussed the "severe consequences" for the use of chemical weapons. There was no explanation as to what that might mean.

Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs, told CBS News the "only scenario" for Israeli military action in Syria would be to "prevent the delivering of arms, chemical weapons and other kinds of weapons into the hands of terrorists."

He said Prime Minister Netanyahu had made clear, "if there will be no threat to Israel, we won't interfere."

Specifically, Israel is concerned about the, "possible transfer of weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, longer-range missiles," to Hezbollah or other terrorist groups.

He refused to elaborate on Israeli intelligence regarding Syria's stash of chemical weapons. He said Israel was sharing all of its information with its allies, including the U.S. and some European countries.

Steinitz emphasized that Israel was not urging the U.S. to take any military action "whatsoever" in Syria at this stage. He also said Israel had not ruled out the possibility of Assad winning the war, but added that, "most probably, the rebels at the end will have the upper hand.

"You know it's not clear who is going to win," Steinitz said, "but its clear who is losing. The Syrian people are losing heavily and suffering immensely from this terrible war."

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