Anti-Assad rebels say U.S. arms needed, vow to control distribution

WASHINGTON Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:12pm EDT

A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon as he takes position inside a house in the city of Aleppo July 11, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon as he takes position inside a house in the city of Aleppo July 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Muzaffar Salman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Syria's opposition said on Thursday that it was concerned U.S. lawmakers had succeeded in holding up U.S. weapons deliveries to rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and repeated assurances the arms will not go to Islamist militants.

Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees have expressed reservations over the Obama administration's intentions to support the insurgents by sending them military hardware, fearing the weapons would fall into the wrong hands.

But none of the military aid has arrived, an official from an Arab country and Syrian opposition sources told Reuters.

"The Syrian Coalition and the Free Syrian Army have already introduced the necessary measures to ensure full and comprehensive vetting of all armed forces under our command," the coalition added in a news release. "We will strictly enforce these controls to ensure that weapons remain in the control of moderate opposition forces."

The White House announced in June that it would arm vetted groups of Syrian rebels, after avoiding involvement in the two-year-old conflict the United Nations said this week has killed more than 100,000 people.

The coalition said that Assad's allies Russia and Iran have not withheld supplies to Syrian government forces.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans on the intelligence committees have expressed repeated concern that despite assurances from the coalition, U.S. weapons could reach factions like the Nusra Front, one of the most effective rebel groups fighting Assad but which is also seen by the United States as a front for al Qaeda in Iraq.

Lawmakers also want to hear more about the administration's overall Syria policy, and about how it believes its arms plan will affect the situation on the ground, where Assad's forces have made recent gains.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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