News / Middle East

EU Delays Decision to Arm Syrian Rebels

A fighter from the Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra reacts to his picture being taken as their base is shelled in Raqqa province, eastern Syria, Mar.14, 2013.
A fighter from the Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra reacts to his picture being taken as their base is shelled in Raqqa province, eastern Syria, Mar.14, 2013.
Lisa Bryant
European Union governments delayed making a decision Friday on a push by Britain and France to arm Syrian rebels against government troops, as the civil war in Syria marked its second anniversary. Syria was not on the agenda of the European summit that ended Friday in Brussels. But Europe's two military heavyweights, Britain and France, made sure it would be discussed.

Both countries say they will act together in trying to get the 27-member European Union to lift an embargo against shipping weapons to Syria.

  • Smoke rises from buildings damaged by missiles fired by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Raqqa province, eastern Syria, March 15, 2013.
  • Demonstrators shout during a protest in Raqqa, Syria, marking two years since the start of the uprising in the country, March 15, 2013.
  • Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Istanbul March 15, 2013.
  • Residents walk past rubbish piled up along a street in Deir al-Zor, Syria, March 13, 2013.
  • A member of the Free Syrian Army stands near a damaged building in Raqqa province, eastern Syria, March 13, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters prepare mortar shells prior to an offensive against forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Houla near Homs, March 13, 2013. (Shaam News Network)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (center) meets with Haitham Manna, the president of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, front left, and secretary Raja al-Nasser, front right, in Moscow, March 11, 2013.
  • Syrians stand next to dead bodies that have been pulled from the river near Aleppo, March 10, 2012.
  • Buildings damaged by shelling in the Al-Khalidiya neighborhood of Homs, March 10, 2013.
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres (C) walks with a Syrian refugee boy at a camp in Nizip, Turkey, March 10, 2013.
  • Residents walk along a street in Deir al-Zor, March 9, 2013.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said arming the Syrian rebels did not mean giving up on a political solution to the Syrian conflict that has killed roughly 70,000 people and displaced more than a million.

"But of course people want a political solution - of course I want a political situation. But this is not an either-or situation," Cameron said. "I think in fact we're more likely to see political progress if actually people can see that the Syrian opposition which we have now recognized, that we are working with, is a credible and strengthening and growing force."


Demonstrations were held Friday in protest centers across Syria to mark the second anniversary of the conflict which has claimed the lives of 70,000 people. Anti-government protesters first took to the streets in Syria to demand democratic change on March 15, 2011, during the early days of the region-wide upheaval known as the Arab Spring.
Violence continued in several parts of the country Friday. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights says government troops launched attacks in south Damascus, while rebels attacked military posts in the town of Kahn Touman in Aleppo province, killing several soldiers.
Also Friday, at least eight Syrians were killed and more than 20 others injured when a bus they were traveling in from Syria overturned in the Kahhaleh region in Lebanon. It was not immediately clear why the bus overturned.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
Some are concerned the weapons may end up in the wrong hands - like those of Islamist extremists - but Mr. Cameron said this is happening already. All the more important, he said, to work with the opposition so assistance goes to the right people.  

EU members have strong reservations

Other EU members, notably economic heavyweight Germany, still have strong reservations about arming Syrian rebels.

But EU president Herman Van Rompuy downplayed the disagreements at a news conference, saying it was normal for member states to disagree.

"I remember Libya - we also started with nuances and sometimes more than nuances in how to act in Libya, and in the end we had a common position," he said. "It is part of the democratic process."

French President Francois Hollande also put a positive spin on the differences.

Hollande said many EU members are convinced the embargo should be lifted. He said there were plenty of legitimate questions about the risks of arming Syrian rebels.

A current EU embargo against sending weapons to Syria expires at the end of May. Britain and France have pushed for the matter to be taken up speedily - which is why European foreign ministers will discuss lifting the embargo when they meet next week in Ireland.

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Comment Sorting
by: PermReader
March 16, 2013 3:05 PM
We are tired of permanent lies! All anti-government rebels where vagely called "democratic forces" of the Arab world. Seizing power these forces after the blood-bath appeare Muslim-Brothers,Salafies or Al-Kaida.Let them have more arms!

by: Igor from: Russia
March 16, 2013 1:33 AM
If Britain and France think they can arm those terrorists in Syria the Russia, China, Iran, North Korea will surely arm Syrian people with advanced weapons to counter terrorist attacks.

by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
March 15, 2013 5:17 PM
The EU has very valid concerns wrt the arming of disparate groups, it is up to the Syrian majority representatives to form themselves into a cohesive gvmt that displays clear C4 over all the forces fighting to defend the people under attack by Assad and his chronies. 75,000 mainly massacred, by large weapons, civilians is a clear testament to the fact that Assad has arms, while the reps of the majority do not. Trying to force EU members to a policy of arming the defenders, is not the right approach either. There are those countries that for traditional reasons try not to involve themselves in conflicts; and then there are segments that for economic opportunity reasons may feel their future trade advantage, with Iran, will disappear if they side with the majority against the dictatorship; after all not all nations are here to protect the weak. It would be better if the EU agreed to let individual countries follow their moral and humanitarian inclinations on the issue of arming or not arming the struggling and dying civilian majority in Syria.

by: Michael from: USA
March 15, 2013 9:14 AM
France and Britain can arm the Syrian rebels, yet it is a self-conscious decision for a rebel to take up arms and for his own reasons, otherwise France and Britain's act would have authoritarian overtones

by: kanaikaalirumporai
March 15, 2013 8:55 AM
Whenever the EU and its allies, the US, Canada and Australia, prefer to Call someone rebels, they do so and assist them With weaponary and politically to suit the geopolitical needs. If the same gorup, in case at a later stage, turn out to be irrelevent due to some either changes in circunstances or thy conglomerate strikes a deal With the perpetrators of CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY they simly switch side and hunt for the peoples' warriwers. The Project does not stop there, the conglomerate provide all sores of assistence in cleanig the BLOOD STAINED HANDS OF THE WAR CRIMINALS. It' only a matter of time before the EVIL ASSAd turns into be the SAVIOR STABILTY AND PEACE in the regin, if he's unable to be defeatd, Venues like the UNHRC will be used to endorse the policies.

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