The Obama administration quietly has cleared the way for U.S. residents to buy weapons for the rebels who are fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, granting a Washington-based advocacy group a rare license to collect money for arms and other equipment.
The license, which the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued last month without fanfare, gives the nonprofit Syrian Support Group the authority to take in money and pass it directly to armed insurgents. Previously, U.S. entities' assistance to Syria was limited to humanitarian and educational programs.
Brian Sayers, an American who once served as a NATO political officer and is now the Syrian Support Group's Washington lobbyist, said the new license would ease the fears of many prospective donors that helping the rebels buy guns would run afoul of U.S. law. "A lot of donors have been reluctant," he said.
Other analysts said the license would send a message to the Assad government, despite the Obama administration's opposition to U.S. military intervention and its reluctance to supply weapons directly to the rebels.
"It's indirect pressure the U.S. is putting on the regime: 'Hey, we're getting involved with the Free Syrian Army if you don't stop this,'" said Mohammad Abdallah, the head of the new Syria Justice and Accountability Center, a partially U.S.-funded clearinghouse for documenting atrocities.
The Syrian military has deployed fighter jets to attack rebel positions in the northern battleground city of Aleppo, the United Nations confirmed Wednesday.
U.N. monitors observed fighter jets firing over the southeast neighborhoods of Aleppo, a spokeswoman for the U.N. mission in Syria said via e-mail.
The U.N. statement confirms various accounts from media outlets and opposition activists that Syrian warplanes have been targeting rebels who are trying to wrest control of the northern city, Syria's most populous. The aircraft fired rockets and heavy machine guns, the U.N. statement said. The Syrian military also is using helicopter gunships against rebels in Aleppo and elsewhere.