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.
TEXT SIZE - +
— 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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid