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Senators Say U.S. Must Do More to Aid Syria Opposition

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Jan. 22 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration must do more to bolster the Syrian rebels, including channeling humanitarian aid through the opposition, senators from both parties said.

“We heard desperate pleas for U.S. support and assistance,” Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said today at the Capitol after leading a bipartisan delegation to Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Afghanistan last week.

Funneling more humanitarian aid through the Syrian opposition coalition rather than non-government organizations will add to the credibility of the groups fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, the senators said.

“The United States has an obligation to do more, to do it now, and to do it dramatically,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut.

Since the Syrian crisis erupted in March 2011, at least 60,000 people have been killed, according to the United Nations. The fighting also has produced more than 650,000 refugees, many of whom are in neighboring Jordan and Turkey, Blumenthal said.

While the five senators attending a press conference today agreed on greater support for the Syrian rebels, they disagreed on more direct U.S. involvement.

Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, joined McCain in calling for the U.S. to arm the rebels and create a “no-fly zone” to protect them from Assad’s air force. No Democrats voiced support for those measures.

Other senators who were on the trip and spoke today were Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat. McCain said a sixth member of the group, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, remained behind in Afghanistan.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at dlerman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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