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EU discusses arming Syria's rebels - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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British Foreign Secretary William Hague, right, listens to Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, during the EU foreign ministers meeting, at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, May 27, 2013. The European Union nations remain divided on Monday whether to ease sanctions against Syria to allow for weapons shipments to rebels fighting the regime of Syria's President Bashar Assad. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

British foreign secretary William Hague, right, listens to Lithuania’s foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius, during the EU foreign ministers’ meeting at the European Council building in Brussels, on Monday, May 27, 2013. The European Union nations remain divided on Monday whether to ease sanctions against Syria to allow for weapons shipments to rebels fighting the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Foreign Ministers of the EU member states will discuss lifting the arms embargo on Syria’s opposition today, though many governments have expressed doubts about the move.

Both the UK and France are expected to push for the embargo to be relaxed, to allow arms shipments to rebel groups fighting to bring down the government of Bashar Al-Assad.

London and Paris argue that this will increase the pressure on the embattled Syrian president to accept a political solution to the crisis, which has so far killed more than 80,000 Syrians and displaced millions more.

“It is important to show we are prepared to amend our arms embargo so that the Assad regime gets a clear signal that it has to negotiate seriously,” said British foreign secretary William Hague prior to the meeting in Brussels.

However, any decision on modifying the EU’s current policy, which allows the provision of technical and “non-lethal” assistance only, would require a unanimous decision by all EU member states.

Many have expressed doubts about the wisdom of taking sides in the conflict, despite the earlier decision by the EU to recognize the Syrian National Coalition as the “legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

The governments of Sweden, Austria, Finland and the Czech Republic are reportedly opposed to the proposal.

The foreign minister of Austria, Michael Spindelbigger, said: “I think the European Union has to hold the line … We are a peace community,” and that supplying weapons “would be a reversal of our policy.”

Others governments have expressed unease at the possibility of weapons supplied by European states falling into the hands of terrorists. Existing UN Security Council resolutions prohibit the arming of Al-Qaeda, to which the Syrian rebel group Jabhat Al-Nusra is affiliated.

Videos have already emerged online of fighters from the Al-Nusra group using weapons supplied to other groups by external backers.

Germany and the Netherlands are understood to be seeking a compromise proposal to assist the opposition without deepening European involvement in the conflict. One proposal is to continue the embargo, set to expire on May 31, until the results of the forthcoming peace conference in Geneva are clear.

“[I]f changing the arms embargo could send a clear message to Assad saying, you know, the other parties will also have access to arms if you don’t go to Geneva to negotiate, then in that context changing the arms embargo could be a useful tool,” said Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans.

The Syrian government recently said it was willing to attend an upcoming peace conference in Geneva, though foreign minister Walid Al-Mouallem said that Syria would not accept an externally imposed solution.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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