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October 30, 2014

House Votes to Ban Some, but Not All, Weapons for Syrian Rebels

450698092 445x348 House Votes to Ban Some, but Not All, Weapons for Syrian Rebels

Rescuers carry a body after Syrian regime helicopters allegedly dropped barrel bombs on the Sukkari neighbourhood, an opposition-held district in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on June 16. (Baraa al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrian rebels couldn’t get any shoulder-fired missiles from the United States under an amendment adopted Thursday night on the House floor. The House voted down another amendment that would block them from getting any U.S. weapons at all, however.

The amendment votes came on the House version of the fiscal 2015 defense spending bill, expected to pass Friday.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., had sought to block U.S. weaponry for Syrian rebels entirely.

“The naive notion that we can deliver weapons to vetted, moderate opposition groups at war with other rebel militias gives no guarantee that our weaponry won’t be seized or diverted, making an already terrible civil war even worse,” Fortenberry said, calling it a “recipe for disaster.”

Indiana Rep. Peter J. Visclosky, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, acknowledged there was risk.

“But at some point in time, given the problems we have in that area of the world, and the people who have been displaced and who are in those refugee camps, I think we ought to keep what few unpleasant options we have open, to assume a reasonable risk, if at some future point in time during the next year to year and a half, we can work to improve the situation,” he said.

Fortenberry’s amendment was defeated, 167-244. An earlier attempt by Fortenberry to block weapons for Syrian rebels was a touch closer.

Banning shoulder-fired missiles for Syrian rebels was an easier call for the House. An amendment by Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., was approved by voice vote. Conyers cited newspaper reports about fears that the man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) could fall into the hands of terrorists who could use them to shoot down commercial airliners.

The underlying House bill places some other restrictions on aid to Syrian rebels. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s annual defense authorization bill is more open on that account.

The House voted on some other big defense amendments Thursday, too.

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