France wants to be able to arm Syrian rebels

France is ready to help arm Syrian opposition fighters and is pushing for an urgent European Union meeting on lifting its arms embargo on Syria, the French foreign minister said Thursday.

Smoke rises following an explosion in the Syrian village of Jamlah in the southern province of Daraa, Syria, seen from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights ,Thursday, March 7, 2013. Clashes between Syrian troops and rebel fighters flared on Thursday near an area where armed fighters linked to the opposition abducted 21 U.N. peacekeepers a day earlier. The peacekeepers are part of a force that monitors a cease-fire between Israeli and Syrian troops in the Golan Heights. Israel captured part of the territory in the 1967 Mideast war, and while the area has been peaceful for decades, Israeli officials have grown increasingly jittery as the Syrian civil war moves closer to its borders. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

PARIS (AP) — France is ready to help arm Syrian opposition fighters and is pushing for an urgent European Union meeting on lifting its arms embargo on Syria, the French foreign minister said Thursday.

Laurent Fabius suggested France and Britain are ready to brush aside concerns by other European countries about the embargo in their push to help the Syrian opposition, but the British side was more cautious on its position.

Russia, which is supplying weapons to the Syrian military, strongly opposes arms supplies to the rebels — and some international diplomats warn that more weapons is the last thing that Syria needs right now after a two-year civil war that has left 70,000 dead.

"Lifting the embargo is one of the only means left to make things move politically" in Syria, Fabius said on France-Info radio.

Asked if France should arm the rebels, Fabius said, "Yes." Asked if France and Britain could join efforts to arm the opposition, Fabius said, "to lift the embargo, exactly."

He said France and Britain will ask for an EU meeting on lifting the embargo "now," possibly by the end of this month.

Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement Thursday that the international effort for a political solution in Syria "has little chance of gathering momentum unless the regime feels compelled to come to the negotiating table. They need to feel that the balance on the ground has shifted against them."

Referring to the EU embargo, the statement said, "We are not prepared to rule out any options to bring an end to the suffering of millions of innocent Syrians."

The current embargo expires in May. If EU partners don't agree on lifting the embargo imminently, Fabius said that France and Britain could refuse to renew it. British Prime Minister David Cameron hinted this week that the U.K. might withhold approval for an extension of the arms embargo when it is due to expire in May.

Cameron and other EU leaders are likely to discuss Syria at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Fabius also argued that military situation in Syria is currently "imbalanced" in favor of the regime, which is receiving weapons from Russia and Iran, while the rebels "can't defend themselves." He didn't address the source of the weapons the Syrian rebels are currently using in their battle against government forces, weapons believed to be coming from non-EU sources in the Arab world.

Russian's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, warned Wednesday that arming Syria's rebels would be a breach of international law. Moscow has been the main ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, shielding him from the U.N. sanctions over the two-year conflict.

International frustration with the situation in Syria has been growing as the Syrian opposition appears to be gaining momentum.

Britain last month successfully pushed for changes to an arms embargo to allow EU member states to provide nonlethal aid — such as armored vehicles — to rebels. The U.S. also said last month that it would start providing non-lethal aid to the rebels.

But talk of arming the rebels comes as concerns have been raised about abuses by opposition fighters. Human rights monitors said in a report Thursday that Syrian rebels routinely kill captured soldiers and suspected regime informers. However the report also said that abuses by the Assad regime remain far more deadly, systematic and widespread.
Associated Press
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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