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Washington (AFP) June 14, 2013
US military proposals for arming Syrian rebels include establishing a limited no-fly zone over rebel training camps and delivering small arms, US media reported Friday.
Up to now Washington has only provided -- at least officially -- non-lethal aid to the rebels.
The proposed no-fly zone would stretch up to 25 miles (40 kilometers) into Syria, and would be enforced by warplanes flying inside Jordan and armed with long-distance air-to-air missiles, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed US officials.
The Journal also reported that President Barack Obama has issued a classified order directing the Central Intelligence Agency to coordinate with US allies on arming the rebels.
Weapons for the Syrian rebels would include small arms and ammunition, including anti-tank weapons but not anti-aircraft weapons, The New York Times reported, citing unnamed American officials.
Military experts have long warned that a no-fly zone would require Western jets to destroy the regime's relatively good air defenses.
But US planners, according to the Journal, believe this no-fly zone could be imposed in about a month without having to destroy the Syrian anti-aircraft batteries.
It could also be imposed without a UN Security Council resolution because US warplanes would not regularly enter Syrian airspace, and the US military would not be holding Syrian territory.
A no-fly zone is necessary to set up a camp to train rebels, officials said.
"Unless you have a good buffer zone inside Syria, you risk too much," an unnamed US official briefed on the military proposal told the Journal.
This limited no-fly zone would cost about $50 million (37 million euros) a day, far less than a Syria-wide no-fly zone. US officials reportedly hope that Washington's allies could help cover the cost.
The US planes would fly from Jordan -- where US Patriot missiles and F-16 jet fighters have already been deployed -- and from navy ships in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, the Journal reported.
In Washington, Republican Senator John McCain has led the charge in Congress for a no-fly zone, saying Syria's rebels will never have a chance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces unless his jets are neutralized.
"We can establish a no-fly zone without sending a single manned airplane over Syria... and we can change this equation on the battlefield," McCain said Thursday.
NATO urges UN probe after US says Syria used chemical weapons
"I welcome the clear US statement. It is urgent that the Syrian regime should grant access to the United Nations to investigate all reports of chemical weapons use," Rasmussen told a press conference in Brussels with the Moldovan premier Iurie Leanca
"This is indeed a matter of great concern.The international community has made clear that any use of chemical weapons is completely unacceptable and a clear breach of international law."
On NATO's role, he said the alliance would protect member Turkey with Patriot air defence missiles stationed on the Syria-Turkey border.
"The Patriot deployment will ensure effective protection of Turkey against any missile attack, whether the missile is carrying chemical weapons or not," Rasmussen said.
The NATO chief's comments came a day after President Barack Obama's administration said it had concluded that Syrian regime forces had used banned arms, including the nerve gas sarin, in attacks that killed up to 150 people.
The White House also promised "military support" to Syrian rebel forces.
But Rasmussen said he supported a political approach to ending the Syrian civil war, now in its third year. According to the United Nations, more than 93,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
"I still believe that the right way forward is a political solution," Rasmussen said.
"In that respect I welcome the joint American-Russian initiative to call an international conference and I urge all parties involved, the government and opposition in Syria, to attend that conference and hopefully pave the way for a long-term sustainable political solution and urge all parties to stop the bloodshed immediately."
World powers have however been unable to fix a date for the conference as Washington struggles to find common ground with Moscow, which is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's closest ally.
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