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Syria war death toll hits 93,000, UN says. A spur to US to aid rebels?

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Reports of a looming offensive on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, are also hanging over this week’s White House meetings on Syria. President Obama gathered his national security team Wednesday for discussions that were to include options for “rebalancing” the war’s momentum, which range from arming the rebels to establishing a no-fly zone to protect rebels and civilians from Assad’s increased use of aerial bombardments.

Obama administration officials continue to insist that the US is determined to help the rebels, but there were no indications that Wednesday’s meeting produced any decisions.

“We are determined to do everything that we can in order to help the opposition,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday, after meeting with his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary William Hague. Noting that Assad is using weapons and tactics against his own people that “challenge anybody’s values and standards of human behavior,” Mr. Kerry said the US is “going to have to make judgments … about how we can help the opposition to deal with that.”

At the same time, however, White House spokesman Jay Carney cautioned against expectations of quick decisions from the president on what to do next to help the rebels. The White House continues to worry that US-provided arms – especially the anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons the rebels seek – could fall into the hands of the Islamist extremist groups who are also fighting Assad.

Administration officials are concerned that weapons such as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which could be a potent force against Assad’s intensifying air war, might also end up turned against US interests and Israel, America’s closest ally in the region. Advocates of providing US weaponry, including Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, say rebel factions can be vetted before receiving US arms.

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