US government to increase military support for Syrian rebels

US president Barack Obama has authorised the provision of weapons to Syrian rebels following “proof” that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons – including nerve agent sarin – against them.

The government has said it will provide “direct military support”, but didn’t specify whether this would include lethal aid. Ben Rhodes, US deputy national security adviser, said only that aid would be “different in scope and scale to what we have provided before.” Acting leader of the National Coalition political opposition in Syria George Sabra, speaking on Al-Arabiya television, said:

We want anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. We expect to see positive results and genuine military support.

The New York Times cites US officials saying that the US will supply rebels with small arms and ammunition, holding out the possibility of including anti-tank weapons. For now, however, supplying antiaircraft weapons is not being considered.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, the Labour Party urged David Cameron to consult with them should any decision be made to arm rebels on behalf of the UK. He is expected to speak with Russian president Vladimir Putin – who is an ally of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad – ahead of the G8 summit next week.

Yesterday, the UN said at least 93,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far – an increase of more than 30,000 since the last set of figures covering the period to November 2012. It added that at least 5,000 people people have been dying in the country every month since July 2012, and that these figures probably underestimate the full scale of the death toll as many go unreported.