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Arms embargo against Syria rebels lifted

The British- and French-led move to “send a clear signal to the Assad regime”.

Image: Muhammed Muheisen/AP/Press Association Images

THE EUROPEAN UNION is to end its arms embargo against the Syrian opposition, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed last night.

Following lengthy talks in Brussels, the 27 EU foreign ministers agreed with the British- and French-championed proposal but were clear that it would not lead to arms being sent to the National Coalition immediately.

One French official was adamant that it was a “theoretical lifting of the embargo”. “There will be no decision on any deliveries before 1 August.”

“This was the outcome that the United Kingdom wanted,” Hague said in a statement, noting that it was a “difficult decision for some countries”. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the Irish government was reluctant to see a further militarisation of the conflict.

Austria said it would be “against the principles” of the Union which is a “community of peace”. Dutch Minister Frans Timmermans said, “Quite a lot of arms are already going to the wrong hands. The parties to the conflict don’t have a shortage of arms, frankly.”

According to the UK, it was “necessary and right to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria”.

It was important for Europe to send a clear signal to the Assad regime that it has to negotiate seriously, and that all options remain on the table if it refuses to do so. Tonight EU nations have done just that.

Numerous EU sanctions against the Assad regime, which were due to lapse this Friday, will remain in place. The ministers also set out a framework which would allow countries to equip the Opposition, if they desire.

“This does not mean that we have made any decision as the United Kingdom to send arms to the National Coalition,” said Hague, “but we now have the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate and if the Assad regime refuses to negotiate.”

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It is understood there were concerns among the 27 countries that sending arms to the Opposition now might endanger a US-Russia peace initiative. A planned peace conference will take place next month and it is hoped that both sides in the war will attend.

In Istanbul Khaled al-Saleh, spokesman for Syria’s opposition Coalition called the EU decision “the moment of truth that we’ve been waiting for for months”.

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