US says arms for Syrian insurgents could help Al-Qaeda

The White House said Tuesday that Al-Qaeda's efforts to take advantage of violence in Syria mean it is no time to send arms to opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Without getting into assessments of our intelligence capabilities, I would simply say that we are aware of the fact that Al-Qaeda and other extremists are seeking to take advantage of the situation created by Assad's brutal assault on the opposition," said White House spokesperson Jay Carney.

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri recently expressed support for the Syrian rebels.

Carney said Al-Qaeda is merely trying to create an image "that they are on the side of greater freedom and democracy for the people of the region - in this case, of Syria."

However, the idea that Al-Qaeda advocates freedom and democracy is "contrary to their history, their rhetoric, their reason for being," he said.

Carney acknowledged the United States lacked complete information about Al-Qaeda's activities when he said, "It's not clear right now the extent to which Al-Qaeda extremists are working with the Syrian opposition."

Applying political pressure to Assad to leave office and to cease the military crackdown on dissidents is a better option than sending in weapons, he said.

"Now is not the time to further militarize the situation in Syria," Carney said.

Last week, Republican Senator John McCain called for arming Syrian insurgents against Assad regime repression that has killed more than 7,500 people in less than a year, according to United Nations estimates this week.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton disagreed with McCain's plea during an interview Sunday with CBS News.

"We really don't know who it is that would be armed," Clinton said during a visit to Morocco.

"Are we supporting Al-Qaeda in Syria?" she said. "Hamas is now supporting the opposition. Are we supporting Hamas in Syria?"

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

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