U.S. mulls providing humanitarian aid, not arms, to Syrians suffering crackdown

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says the U.S. is considering providing humanitarian aid to Syrians. (Reuters)

The United States said Tuesday it was working with friends to discuss how to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people caught in the government crackdown and said it was not considering providing arms to Syrian opposition groups.

“We are exploring the possibility of providing humanitarian aid to Syrians,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said, saying any such move would come as Washington and partners ratchet up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

But pressed on how any such aid would be delivered and how it would be targeted, Carney said no such “mechanisms” currently existed.

State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland also weighed in on the question of providing humanitarian aid to Syrians, but made clear any such help would fall well short of direct aid to rebels battling Assad’s fierce crackdown.

“It’s frankly not clear how much we’re going to be able to do, but we want to help,” said Nuland, adding that suggestions like creating humanitarian corridors or safe zones for Syrian civilians were not yet realistic.

“Some of these proposals that people are brooding about could not be done without foreign military intervention − as we have said, we don’t think more arms into Syria is the right answer,” she said.

The idea of humanitarian aid was being discussed for Syria as several senior congressional figures, including Senator John McCain, suggested it could be time to go much further and start arming Syrian opposition groups.

“We are not considering that step right now,” said Carney.

The United States shut its embassy and said all staff had left Syria due to worsening security in the country, which has also been hit by suicide bombings in Damascus.

France, Italy, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain recalled their ambassadors from Syria.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in comments broadcast on Monday that Western countries were ready to lean hard on Assad diplomatically but had no intention of using force to topple him, as they did against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya last year.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday the United States would work with other nations to try to tighten sanctions against Assad’s government and deny it arms in the absence of a U.N. resolution.

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