US congressional hurdles lifted on arming Syrian rebels

Oppositions fears the weapons could end up in the hands of Islamist militants

President Barack Obama should be able to go ahead with a plan to arm the Syrian rebels after some congressional concerns were eased, the chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said on Monday.

"We believe we are in a position that the administration can move forward," Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican, told Reuters.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees had expressed worries about whether the administration's plan would succeed, delaying weapons deliveries to the Syrian opposition.

The White House announced in June that it would offer military aid to vetted groups of Syrian rebels after two years of balking at directly sending arms to the opposition in the civil war.

But lawmakers held up the project, complaining that the plan might not tip the balance in Syria in favour of forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad, and that weapons could end up in the hands of Islamist militants.

Last week, a senior administration official said that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who had questioned the wisdom of arming the insurgents had tentatively agreed that the administration could go ahead with its plans, but sought updates as the covert effort proceeded.

Now, the House has given at least a cautious go-ahead.

"It is important to note that there are still strong reservations," he said. "We got a consensus that we could move forward with what the administration's plans and intentions are in Syria consistent with committee reservations."

Rogers would not comment on specific details about those discussions.

"I had very strong concerns about the strength of the administration's plans in Syria and its chances for success," Rogers said.

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