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Syria Today: "US Moving Towards Supply of Weapons to Insurgents"

Claimed footage of US "non-lethal" aid moving to insurgents inside Syria

See also Middle East Today: Palestine --- Assassination of "Bomb-Maker", Killing of Jewish Settler
Tuesday's Syria Today: A Chemical Weapons Attack in Idlib Province?

1920 GMT: Chemical Weapons

Local Turkish officials say they testing blood samples taken from Syrian casualties, brought over the border this week, to determine whether they were victims of a chemical weapons attack.

The samples were sent to Turkey's forensic medicine institute after several Syrians with breathing difficulties were brought from Syria's Idlib Province to the Turkish town of Reyhanli in Hatay Province along the border..

1320 GMT: Assad Appears

In a public-relations event to show himself outside the Presidential Palace, Bashar al-Assad has visited a Damascus power station.

State TV broadcast brief clips of Assad speaking to workers at the Umayyad Electrical Station in the Tishrin Park district.

1010 GMT: Hezbollah Involvement

The opposition Syrian National Coalition has denounced the statement of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrullah pointing to the involvement of the organisation in the Syrian conflict (see 0440 GMT):

The Syrians and the Lebanese hoped...that the Hezbollah leadership would stop their attacks on Homs and Damascus and take into account the gravity of the situation in the region.

But they heard nothing but threats...and warnings against setting the region on fire and an admission of their interference in Syrian affairs.

0900 GMT: US Arms to Insurgents

Journalist Jenan Moussa, one of the most effective journalists inside Syria, claims video (see top of entry) showing direct supply of US "non-lethal" aid to the insurgency.

Officials said the first shipment of $8 million in medical supplies and ready-to-eat military food rations was being delivered Tuesday to the opposition's Supreme Military Council (SMC).

Last month Washington announced $120 million in assistance, from food to military equipment such as night-vision goggles, to the opposition.

0440 GMT: Hezbollah Involvement

In a televised address on Tuesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave his strongest indication that the Lebanese organisation will fight alongside Syrian regime forces to prevent the fall of President Assad: "Syria has real friends in the region, and the world who will not allow Syria to fall into the hands of America or Israel."

Nasrallah specifically referred to protection of the Shia shrine of Sayida Zeinab, south of Damascus:

There are people (Hezbollah fighters) who defend this shrine and some who die defending this shrine. Through their defence, they are preventing sectarian strife. This shrine is for all Muslims; we are not accusing the Sunnis.

Hezbollah has been fighting insurgents for control of villages inside Syria near the Lebanese border, as well as supporting the Syrian military in Homs and nearby areas. Earlier this week, a Hezbollah commander said five to six members of the organisation were being killed each day in the effort.

Nasrallah declared:

The goal is no longer to take control of the country from the current regime. The goal of all those who stand behind the war in Syria is to destroy Syria as a state, as a people, as a society and an army.

They don't want a strong state or army in Syria - they want it to be a failed state, to have no control over its resources.

0435 GMT: Car Bomb and Casualties

Tuesday's deaths included at least 13, with more than 70 people injured, from a car bomb near the Ministry of Interior in the Damascus district of Marjeh, State TV said.

The attack came a day after Prime Minister Wael al-Halki survived a car bomb in the capital.

The Local Coordination Committees in Syria claimed 173 people were killed on Tuesday, including 53 martyrs in Hama Province and 49 in Damascus and its suburbs.

The Violations Documentation Center puts the confirmed death toll at 58,854 since the conflict begin in March 2011, an increase of 171 from Tuesday.

Of those killed, 46,273 were civilians, a rise of 108 from yesterday.

0415 GMT: US Weapons to Insurgents?

Even as President Obama was maintaining a cautious line on Tuesday over increased support to the insurgency amid claims of regime use of chemical weapons --- "[I have to] make sure I’ve got the facts" --- "senior Administration officials" were putting out a different story to The Washington Post:

President Obama is preparing to send lethal weaponry to the Syrian opposition and has taken steps to assert more aggressive U.S. leadership among allies and partners seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, according to senior administration officials.

The officials said they are moving toward the shipment of arms but emphasized that they are still pursuing political negotiation. To that end, the administration has launched an effort to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin that the probable use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government — and the more direct outside intervention that could provoke — should lead him to reconsider his support of Assad.

The supply would be the first in public by Washington to the insurgency in the Syrian conflict.

The US is already involved in the covert provision of arms, as well as traiining of insurgents at a base in Jordan, as part of a multi-lateral effort.

The officials said Obama would a final decision on the open supply of arms to the opposition "within weeks", before a meeting with Putin in June.

They said the President was ready to move on the “left-hand side” of a range of actions that ranged from “arming the opposition to boots on the ground".

“We’re clearly on an upward trajectory,” a senior official said. “We’ve moved over to assistance that has a direct military purpose.”

The officials did not specify what US equipment is under consideration. Insurgents have put priority on  ­anti-tank weapons and surface-to-air missiles to break the Syrian military on the ground while blunting the regime's aerial warfare.

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