US pushes for military aid for Syrian rebels

US senators push the White House to provide military aid for rebels in Syria.

Syrian flag. Picture: AFP

WASHINGTON - US senators, including some of President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats, pushed the White House on Thursday to shift its policy and provide lethal military assistance to rebels waging a civil war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

It is time for Washington to do more to oust Assad and end a two-year conflict in which more than 70,000 people have been killed and millions displaced, they said at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sentiment is growing in the United States and internationally that more should be done in Syria.

"Shouldn't we do something to prevent this massive slaughter that's going on?" Senator John McCain asked during a heated exchange that ended with the Arizona Republican walking out of the hearing. He did so while Elizabeth Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs was replying to one of his questions.

McCain has long called for the United States to provide military assistance, including a no-fly zone, in Syria to assist the rebels.

Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria, defended Washington's approach and pointed out that Assad has lost territory to the rebels.

"Yes, there has been an erosion of his position," McCain shot back. "But how long will it take? How many have to die? How many have to be tortured?"

Obama's administration has stepped up humanitarian aid, but has stopped short of providing lethal assistance.