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March 14, 2013

Europe Ramps Up Calls to Arm Syrian Rebels

by Lisa Bryant

Europe's two biggest military powers, France and Britain, are ramping up calls for the European Union to arm Syrian rebels.  French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius added more pressure on Thursday, saying France and Britain would act unilaterally if the rest of the 27-member bloc resisted lifting an arms embargo against Syria.

The embargo comes up for renewal in May, but in an interview with French radio, Fabius said France wants it to take place quickly - possibly by the end of this month.

With more than 70,000 people dead and one-million-plus refugees, the Syrian crisis, Fabius said, was taking a horrendous toll. He said the arms imbalance was unacceptable and repeated Western allegations that Iran and Russia are supplying weapons to the Syrian government. Meanwhile, he said, Syrian rebels don't have adequate means to defend themselves.

Fabius says France and Britain will act unilaterally if they fail to persuade the other Europeans to lift the embargo.

The foreign minister's remarks are only the latest calls for more muscular European action.

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested Britain might move unilaterally if the EU fails to lift the embargo. The Reuters news agency reports that anti-aircraft missiles count among the weapons that might be supplied to rebel fighters.  Britain has already persuaded the Europeans to allow non-lethal aid to the rebels, which could include armored vehicles.

But Germany, in particular, has resisted arming the rebels, fearing more weapons might lead to a spreading regional conflict.

The United States recently announced it would offer food and medical supplies, but not weapons to the rebels.

During a visit to Qatar last week, Secretary of State John Kerry said the Obama administration supported Middle East efforts to arm the rebels - so long as the weapons ended up in the hands of moderate members of the armed Syrian opposition.