Ros-Lehtinen: Syrian Rebels Co-Opted by Extremists

Wednesday, 20 Mar 2013 12:14 PM

By David Yonkman, Washington Correspondent

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U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says now is not the time to arm rebels working to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Florida Republican, who is chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa, warned at a hearing on Wednesday the weapons could fall into the wrong hands and jeopardize the entire Middle East, including key allies like Israel.

“What started as a popular uprising, where Syrians took to the streets in protest against the Assad regime’s corruption, human-rights abuses and brutality, has turned into a full-scale sectarian conflict that pits the Assad regime against Islamists who seek to establish an Islamic state in the wake of Assad’s removal,” she said.

“The secular and moderate elements have been forced to the periphery, and their movement has been co-opted by the extremists.”

Ros-Lehtinen said that is why the United States must be extremely cautious in its dealing with any opposition forces.

“I sincerely do not believe it is time for the U.S. to arm the rebels,” she said. “Too many questions remain about who the rebels are and with whom they will swear allegiance.”

She said that vetting the opposition is not enough when providing lethal aid since it could even be used against the United States itself once the Assad regime is removed from power.

Israeli and some U.S. officials — including the chairmen of both the House and Senate intelligence committees — believe chemical weapons may have been used, but the American ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, testified on Wednesday that they hadn’t.

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