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As EU discusses arms for rebels, UN finds atrocities in Syria’s war

UN investigators have identified Syrians who may be responsible for war crimes. The news comes as EU foreign ministers are meeting to decide whether to supply the Syrian opposition with arms.

Investigators found that government forces and rebels are committing war crimes, including killings and torture, and spreading terror among civilians in Syria's nearly two-year-old conflict. The report found that official soldiers and paramilitary groups have targeted funeral processions and even lines at bakeries with the goal of "spreading terror." The report recommends referring human rights violators to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"Individuals may also bear criminal responsibility for perpetuating the crimes identified in the present report," it read. "Where possible, individuals in leadership positions who may be responsible were identified alongside those who physically carried out the acts."

Syria's conflict has killed 70,000, the UN estimates. The report, based on interviews with victims and witnesses, covers the six months to mid-January. Syria has not allowed investigators to enter the country.

Soldiers used cluster bombs, but investigators haven't found evidence of chemical weapons. Government forces have also carried out shelling and aerial bombardment across Syria, the investigators found, citing evidence from satellite images.

Rebels have also committed war crimes, including murder, torture, hostage-taking and using children under age 15 in hostilities, the report found. Foreign fighters, many of them from Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt, have radicalized the rebels and helped detonate deadly improvised explosive devices.

The report is the third semiannual look at the country by the independent investigations panel. Previous efforts have led to increased attention, but the death toll has mounted and fighting has intensified with little international action in the civil war's nearly two years.

Questions in Brussels

The release of the UN report coincided a meeting of the EU's foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, where they were scheduled to discuss among other things, the sanctions against Syria.

An EU weapons ban that applies to rebels and the government would expire March 1 along with other sanctions. The 27 EU members agree on keeping most restrictions in place, but cannot agree on how to handle the arms embargo and whether it should be lifted for the rebel side.

Some countries would rather leave the embargo as is or modify it slightly. A small faction, led by Britain with tepid French and Italian support, has pushed to lift sanctions on the Syrian opposition while leaving them on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Many countries have ruled out supplying rebels with arms out of fears of proliferation.

The decision by the 27 ministers must be unanimous, and many diplomats doubt that an agreement will be reached on Monday. Still, they also doubt that negotiations will stretch to March 1 and a total lifting of sanctions.

The ministers face an easier road on new sanctions for North Korea as part of international backlash after the country carried out another nuclear test last Tuesday. Finally, the ministers will discuss Mali and the EU's 500-troop training mission for soldiers in the West African country.

mkg/kms (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)