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EU to look at Syria arms

March 15, 2013

French President Francois Hollande has called on the EU to lift an embargo that has prevented the shipment of weapons to rebels in war-torn Syria. The issue was added at the last minute to an EU summit agenda for Friday.

Members of the Free Syrian Army load their weapons during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the old city of Aleppo on February 15. (Photo: REUTERS/ Muzaffar Salman)
Image: reuters

Speaking during a break in a two-day EU summit which began on Thursday in Brussels, Hollande said he hoped the arms embargo would be lifted before it expires at the end of May, adding that France would "take its responsibility." Earlier in the day Hollande had said that Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was continuing to offer arms to the government.

"We cannot remain simply in a regime of sanctions," Hollande said. "We have to go further."

Just before it expired on March 1, the EU extended its arms embargo by three months for both sides in the two-year civil war. Syria's opposition has repeatedly urged outside governments to arm their forces. Those calls have largely gone unheeded owing to concerns that the weapons might fall into militants' hands.

‘Very difficult issue'

Chancellor Angela Merkel called for caution, too. Germany had previously ruled out any arm shipments to Syria.

"This is a very difficult issue for consideration for us," Merkel said, adding however that Germany was "ready, if new points of view have emerged in other member states, to discuss this again among foreign ministers."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a radio station that if EU members failed to unanimously agree on lifting the embargo, his country, as a sovereign government, could decide to flout the ban.

France, England alone

"We cannot allow a people to be massacred by a regime," Hollande said. "All the intentions for a political solution, a political transition, are ruined," he added during a break in talks with his counterparts in Brussels.

Britain has also expressed support for supplying Syria's opposition. On Tuesday, Prime Minister David Cameron said that, if his country failed to convince its EU partners to end the embargo, "then it's not out of the question we might have to do things in our own way."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte ruled out deciding on the divisive issue this week: "We will, of course, listen to the French and the British, but, for the moment, we hold to the decision which was taken, and which included the French and British - no support for the Syrian opposition."

According to the United Nations, more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's two-year conflict.

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