Washington: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned against the United States arming rebels in Syria because such a move could inadvertently lead to support for al Qaeda and Hamas.
Senior leaders of both groups -- which Washington classify as terrorist organisations -- have expressed their support for the loose-knit collection of Syrian rebels who have taken up arms against the regime of embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
US officials, too, have expressed backing for those intent on toppling Assad, and senior lawmakers including Senator John McCain have said it`s time to consider arming the rebel groups.
Hillary poured cold water on such action. "We really don`t know who it is that would be armed," the top US diplomat told CBS News during a visit to Morocco, as she noted that al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has expressed support for the Syrian rebels.
"Are we supporting al Qaeda in Syria?" she said. "Hamas is now supporting the opposition. Are we supporting Hamas in Syria?"
Hillary said she remains "incredibly sympathetic to the calls that somebody do something" about the crackdown that rights groups say has left more than 7,600 people dead.
"Sometimes, overturning brutal regimes takes time and costs lives. I wish it weren`t so," she said.
"This is not Libya, where you had a base of operations in Benghazi, where you had people who were representing the entire opposition" to Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, whose regime fell last year.
Hillary said US officials have met some leaders of the Syrian National Council, but they are not inside Syria proper. While the US and other Western powers have called on Assad to step down, Hillary said the Syrian strongman has "very, very strong friends, if you look at Russia, China and Iran, who are in there determined to keep Assad because he does their bidding, he buys their arms, he sells them oil."
Moscow and Beijing have vetoed two United Nations resolutions condemning Syria, which is Tehran`s principal ally in the Middle East.