French President Francois Hollande told reporters Friday that the use of chemical weapons by Assad "confirms that we must exercise pressure on the regime." But Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot would not say whether the U.S. claim of chemical weapons adds momentum to arming rebels.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, however, voiced opposition to the U.S. decision to send arms to the Syrian rebels. He said no one can be certain chemical weapons were used without an on-the-ground investigation. Increasing the flow of arms to either side "would not be helpful," he said
Washington's decision comes after several military setbacks for the rebels and as Lebanon's Hezbollah militia becomes increasingly involved, fighting alongside Assad's forces. Hezbollah's role was key in the capture of the strategic rebel-held town of Qusair earlier this month.
The U.S. has so far provided $250 million in non-lethal military and political aid to the Syrian opposition. The Obama administration has already told Congress that $127 million of this aid is in the pipeline. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday the administration now has notified Congress that the remaining $123 million in assistance, including body armor and other equipment such as night-vision goggles, is beginning to move to the Syrian rebels.
The plan to arm the rebels comes after a tricky assessment of which groups in the opposition the U.S. and allies can work with and which should be avoided.
"I think we know who the good guys are ... who we can trust and who we cannot," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. He received briefings from U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials in Jordan last month and visited a refugee camp at the Syrian border.