EU rejects Franco-British push to arm Syrian rebels

Fri Mar 15, 2013 3:06pm EDT
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By Peter Griffiths and Justyna Pawlak

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union governments on Friday rejected Franco-British efforts to lift an EU arms embargo to allow weapons supplies to Syrian rebels, saying this could spark an arms race and worsen regional instability.

France and Britain found little support for their proposal at an EU summit in Brussels, diplomats said, but EU foreign ministers will consider the issue again next week.

French President Francois Hollande, backed by British Prime Minister David Cameron, pressed for the embargo to be lifted, saying Europe could not allow the Syrian people to be massacred.

Western nations mostly have stood on the sidelines as 70,000 Syrians have been killed, according to a U.N. estimate, during a two-year-old revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a leading opponent of lifting the arms embargo, said there was a danger that Assad's allies Russia and Iran could step up arms supplies to his government if the 27-nation EU lifted its restrictions.

Just because Britain and France now wanted to drop the ban, that didn't mean 25 other states must follow suit, she told a news conference in Brussels. "That will not be the case."

"Others have, with, in my view, very good reasons ... pointed to the fact that Iran and also Russia are only waiting for a signal to export arms (and) that one must also be aware of the fragile situation in Lebanon and what that means for the arming of Hezbollah," she said.

German officials cite what happened in North Africa where guns smuggled out of Libya helped arm Islamists in Mali.   Continued...

Members of the Free Syrian Army walk with their weapons in Bab Amro in the city of Homs, in a picture provided by Shaam News Network March 11, 2013. REUTERS/Basel Fouad /Shaam News Network/Handout