U.S. opposes supply of shoulder-fired missiles to Syria rebels

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 18, 2014 8:11am EST

A damaged building is pictured in Babila town, southeast Damascus February 17, 2014, after a local ceasefire agreement was reached between the opposition and regime forces. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

A damaged building is pictured in Babila town, southeast Damascus February 17, 2014, after a local ceasefire agreement was reached between the opposition and regime forces.

Credit: Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is opposed to the supply of shoulder-fired missiles, capable of taking down warplanes, to rebel forces in Syria, a senior Obama administration official said on Tuesday.

The official, traveling with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Tunisia, was responding to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Friday which said Saudi Arabia had offered to give Syrian rebels Chinese man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS, and anti-tank guided missiles from Russia.

The newspaper cited an Arab diplomat and several opposition sources with knowledge of the efforts.

The Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "The administration remains opposed to any provision of MANPADS to the Syrian opposition."

The paper said that Arab allies of the United States, disappointed with Syria peace talks, had agreed to arm the Syrian rebels with more sophisticated weaponry.

The United States has long opposed supplying rebels with anti-aircraft missiles due to concern they may fall into the hands of forces that may use the weapons against Western targets or commercial airlines.

The paper said the Saudis had held off providing such weapons in the past because of American opposition.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Tunis; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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