News / Middle East

British Press for Arms Shipments to Syrian Rebels

Free Syrian Army fighters seek more modern weapons to fight forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Free Syrian Army fighters seek more modern weapons to fight forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Britain is pressing its European partners to loosen the arms embargo that prevents Britain and France from sending weapons to Syrian opposition forces trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
 
The British move comes as the United States and Russia step up diplomatic efforts to bring the Syrian government and rebels to the negotiating table.
 
Both Britain and France have been lobbying behind-the-scenes for months for revisions of a European Union weapons embargo due to expire at the end of May. Britain’s proposal is for a continuation of the arms blockade on the Syrian government, but allowing weapons supplies to rebels affiliated with the opposition National Coalition.
 
Several EU countries, led by Germany and with the support of the EU’s own diplomatic corps, have resisted the lobbying from London and Paris. Their concern is that jihadist rebels, some a part of the al-Qaida-affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, will be able to secure some of the arms.
 
European foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on May 27 to discuss renewing the blanket arms embargo. 
 
Ahead of the meeting, British officials have circulated to their European counterparts a confidential working paper outlining two separate proposals.
 
“The situation in Syria is deteriorating sharply. With the likely use of chemical weapons and the growth of extremism, the conflict has entered an even more dangerous phase,” the working paper said. “We must consider all the options, [including] the ability to give further assistance to the moderate Syrian opposition.”
 
Exempt National Coalition
 
The first preferred option proposed by the British government would be to “exempt the National Coalition from the arms embargo” on the grounds that the embargo was “created in order to prevent the Assad regime from brutalizing its own people.”
The second proposal would allow supplying the opposition with so-called lethal equipment “intended for the protection of civilians.”
 
And in order to placate other European governments fearful of leakage of weapons from moderate rebel brigades to jihadists, the British officials say there must be safeguards and that National Coalition leaders must maintain control of any EU-delivered military supplies.
 
“If the EU were to amend the arms embargo, we would need to rigorously assess, monitor and review how any equipment was used in consultation with the National Coalition," the working paper said.
 
British Prime Minister David Cameron is pressing allies to allow arms shipments to the Syrian opposition.British Prime Minister David Cameron is pressing allies to allow arms shipments to the Syrian opposition.
x
British Prime Minister David Cameron is pressing allies to allow arms shipments to the Syrian opposition.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is pressing allies to allow arms shipments to the Syrian opposition.
How that would be accomplished isn’t outlined in the proposal.
 
British Prime Minister David Cameron is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday to discuss Syria as well as other foreign policy issues, say British officials.
 
Cameron to seek Obama’s help
 
“He will likely try to enlist the president’s help to convince Germany and other EU countries that the time has come to rethink the arms ban,” said a British official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
 
German officials argue that arming the rebels now will detract from attempts to get the Assad government and the rebels to negotiate an end to a two-year-long civil war that has left an estimated 80,000 dead and two million displaced internally, according to the United Nations. More than 1.5 million Syrians are now refugees in neighboring countries.
 
The British believe revising the EU arms embargo will put pressure on the Assad government to negotiate, and officials tell VOA they see no contradiction in wanting to arm the rebels while at the same time pressing for peace talks and a negotiated end to the war.
 
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said they intend to convene an international conference to launch peace talks between Syria's government and rebels fighting to end Assad's rule.
 
The announcement came after Kerry held more than three hours of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
 
Syrian opposition leaders say any political solution would have to include Assad relinquishing power.
 
The joint British-French lobbying effort comes as U.S. officials are considering expanding non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels.
 
Russia’s anti-aircraft missiles
 
It also coincides with U.S. concerns that Russia, despite agreeing to try to get peace talks underway, may be weighing supplying the Assad government with S-300 air-defense missile batteries. That would be a major updating of the systems Syria already possess, according to U.S. officials who spoke to the Wall Street Journal.
 
While Syria is said to have extensive air defense capabilities, Israeli warplanes carried out three airstrikes on Syria recently to stop what Israel said were missile transfers from the Assad government to the Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants.  S-300 missile batteries would pose a greater threat to Israeli jets.
 
The Russian missiles also would pose a challenge to any Western efforts to impose a no-fly zone over Syrian rebel enclaves in Aleppo and Idlib provinces adjacent to Turkey – something the Turkish and the National Coalition have urged in recent months.
 
Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron is expected to Western concerns about the Russian missiles when he sees President Putin at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi tomorrow on Friday. Cameron said in the House of Commons Wednesday there was increasing evidence suggesting that Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons during the two-year civil war.
 
“I can tell the House today that there is a growing body of limited but persuasive information showing that the regime has used and continues to use chemical weapons, including Sarin,” said Cameron.
 
Evidence also has mounted that jihadists, including Jabhat al-Nusra, have been managing to secure weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to rebel brigades affiliated to the Free Syrian Army, according to regional experts.
 
The weapons include Croatian-made M79 portable 90 mm anti-tank guns and M60 recoilless anti-tank weapons. Regional experts say Saudi Arabia and Qatar had been supplying such weapons to rebel units more acceptable to the West, mainly secular or nationalist-focused groups such as FSA brigades fighting to oust the Assad government.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid