Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

THE DEBATE

Showdown in Gambia: Foreign troops at border as Jammeh refuses to go (part 1)

Read more

THE DEBATE

Showdown in Gambia: Senegalese troops enter Country as Jammeh refuses to go (part 2)

Read more

PEOPLE & PROFIT

Davos 2017: Global leaders try to understand populist surge

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

DAVOS 2017: What next for the global healthcare industry?

Read more

FOCUS

New initiative provides free services to homeless in Paris

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Moving US embassy to Jerusalem would be 'a terrible mistake'

Read more

ENCORE!

Hisham Matar's memoir 'The Return' seeks answers in post-Gaddafi Libya

Read more

FRENCH CONNECTIONS

Acquired tastes: The 'disgusting' French delicacies many foreigners won't eat

Read more

INSIDE THE AMERICAS

Brazil: Docu-drama spotlights harsh reality of prison life

Read more

Middle east

Syria marks two-year anniversary of crisis amid arms push

© AFP

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2013-03-15

Syria marked two years since the start of the crisis on Friday, as France and Britain said they would try to convince the EU to lift an arms embargo preventing member countries from sending weapons to Syrian rebel forces.

France has joined Britain in voicing its willingness to supply weapons to Syria's rebels if it cannot convince its European partners to lift an arms embargo as the conflict enters its third year.

"Our goal is to convince our partners at the end of May, and if possible before.... If by chance there is a blockage by one or two countries, then France will take its responsibilities," President Francois Hollande said Thursday after talks on the first day of a European Union summit in Brussels.

"Political solutions have now failed (in Syria), despite every pressure," Hollande said, on the eve of Friday's second anniversary of the start of the bloody conflict between the Syrian regime and the rebels seeking to topple it.

The United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising erupted in mid-March 2011.

"We must go further because for two years there has been a clear willingness by (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad to use every means to hit at his own people," he added.

France said earlier that Paris and London were pushing for the EU to drop the arms ban -- a move opposed by some European governments, who fear a flood of weapons into Syria will only escalate the conflict.

FRANCE 24 Debate: Syria, two years on

Syrian opposition activists have called on London and Paris to provide heavy weaponry to tilt the balance in the two-year uprising.

Assad's government, like its key foreign ally Russia, said any such arms shipments would be a "flagrant violation" of international law.

The United States may look favourably on the French and British moves to give more aid to Syrian rebel forces, the State Department said Thursday, without explicitly backing armed support.

"We're obviously not going to get in the middle of their internal discussions, but we certainly want to see as many governments as possible provide appropriate support to the Syrian opposition coalition," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in Washington.

However, Berlin is known to be cool to the idea and on Thursday German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU needed to "proceed very cautiously" on lifting the embargo.

"If our partners in the European Union, in this case Britain and France, have a changed assessment of the situation, then the foreign ministers are of course ready to discuss this subject again," she said.

"But we have to be careful that the other side will not be provided with even more arms by countries that have another stance on Assad," Merkel said.

Some have also raised fears that European-supplied weapons would fall into the hands of radical Islamist militants, who are playing an increasingly prominent role in Syria's armed uprising.

Hollande said Paris had "every guarantee that the weapons supplied will be in non-fundamentalist hands".

Hollande insisted the rebels need to be armed to tip the balance against Assad's regime, which continues to "receive arms despite sanctions", notably from Russia.

"We must go further because there are threats, fears on the use of chemical weapons," Hollande added.

70,000 killed in two years of fighting

Sources said Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron held bilateral talks on Syria shortly before other EU leaders sat down and that the subject was to come up again on the second day of the summit on Friday, despite not being on the official agenda.

Cameron said on Tuesday that Britain would consider ignoring the European Union arms ban if it could not end it.

"It's not out of the question we might have to do things in our own way. It's possible,"he said.

"We are still an independent country, we can have an independent foreign policy."

Paris and London are expected to press for quick new EU talks on the embargo, which was extended on February 28 for three months to June 1 by EU foreign ministers, though such sanctions are always reviewed in case events change.

At the February talks, ministers agreed to ease the embargo to enable any EU state to provide non-lethal aid or training to the insurgents. Britain quickly pledged armoured vehicles and protective clothing for the opposition.

Syria's main opposition bloc, the National Coalition, welcomed France's initiative as "a step in the right direction".

Assad "will not accept a political solution until he realises he is faced with a force that will defeat him," coalition spokesman Walid al-Bunni told AFP.

"The key question is what kind of weapons would France and Britain provide. We need heavy weapons, especially anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons," said Ahmad al-Khatib, spokesman for the Syrian Revolution General Commission.

Regime warplanes bombarded rebel positions across Syria on Thursday, a day on which violence cost at least 147 lives, almost equally divided between civilians, rebels and soldiers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Security Council on Thursday expressed "grave concern" over cross-border attacks between Syria and Lebanon, and over the impact of the Syrian conflict on its smaller neighbour.
 

(AFP)

Date created : 2013-03-15

  • SYRIA - FRANCE

    France and UK ready to arm Syrian rebels

    Read more

  • SYRIA

    Arab League support for arming Syrian rebels 'logical'

    Read more

  • SYRIA

    Arab League ready to grant seat to Syrian opposition

    Read more

COMMENT(S)