US ponders arming Syria rebels as Hezbollah-backed government forces gain upper hand

Washington meetings come in wake of rebels' loss of Qusair

The United States could be about to arm opposition groups in Syria as government forces, backed by Hezbollah, appear to gain the upper hand in the bloody two-year civil war.

Meetings are planned in Washington this week, which could decide to approve the supply of lethal weapons to rebel groups on the ground. In recent weeks opposition fighters have suffered significant setbacks, including the loss of the key town of Qusair and it is believed that government forces will soon launch a sustained attack in opposition strongholds in the north, around Aleppo, and in Homs.

Pro-government newspapers in Syria have suggested that troops are deploying heavily in the area and that an attack could come within days. Al-Watan reported that the army was now, "deploying heavily in the countryside near Aleppo in preparation for a battle that will be fought inside the city and on its outskirts. Besieged areas will be freed in the first stages and troops which have been on the defensive will go on the offensive," it said.

It is thought that US officials are considering a range of options, including the establishment of a no-fly zone which would involve the deployment of American airpower in the region. More likely options include providing smaller arms via Turkey. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, has postponed a scheduled trip to the Middle East to attend the meetings and will now travel to the region next week.

The decision to arm the rebels is fraught with difficulty. There are an increasing number of Islamist groups operating against Bashar al-Assad's forces, and the proliferation of weapons to rebel groups runs the risk of American arms finding their way to these groups. There is also concern that some of those fighting against the government lack the military training or discipline to use the weapons correctly.

However, the recent influx of thousands of fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in the conflict, which tipped the battle for Qusair in the government's favour, is thought to have persuaded influential voices in Washington that is now time to back certain, approved factions.

The US has also come under pressure in recent weeks as evidence grows that chemical weapons have been used in the conflict, a development that last August President Barack Obama said would constitute crossing a "red line". The US has so far not fully endorsed findings by the UK, France and the UN, all of which has said that chemical weapons have been used, mostly by regime forces.

Mr Obama has ruled out deploying American troops, but the US and a number of European countries are now starting to think that it is increasingly impossible for them to stay on the side lines of the conflict. At least 80,000 people have died in the war, while more than a million have been displaced.

The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has promised that the House of Commons will be offered the chance to vote on the issue before the UK agrees to send weapons to rebel groups.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam