The EU has voted to end an arms embargo on the Syrian opposition but had no immediate plans to ship weapons amid continuing efforts to negotiate a solution to the crisis. Russia criticised the EU move, saying it undermined diplomatic efforts.
The European Union on Tuesday lifted an arms embargo on the Syrian opposition, in a move that drew rebuke from Moscow even if there were no immediate plans to deliver military equipment to the forces locked in a bloody civil war with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Tonight EU nations agreed to bring the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition to an end,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement, adding that it was a “difficult decision for some countries” only a few months after the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize.
All other EU sanctions on the Assad regime will remain in place.
“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,” Hague said.
The government in Damascus criticised the move, calling it an "obstruction" to efforts to find a diplomatic solution.
Hague and other European officials emphasised that they had no immediate plans to proceed with a delivery of weapons as diplomats continue to seek a peaceful end to the 26-month-old conflict.
“I have not detected any readiness from anyone at this time to contemplate that particular option,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in reference to supplying the opposition with military equipment.
Nevertheless, Russia criticised the European initiative, saying it threatened to derail current diplomatic efforts.
The EU move “directly hurts our ability to organise an international conference”, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday, referring to an international push to get the two sides to negotiations in Geneva in June.
Ryabkov also defended Russia’s planned sale of S-300 missile systems to the Assad regime – despite strong opposition from the United States, France and Israel – saying it would have a “stabilising” effect on the conflict.
“We think this delivery is a stabilising factor,” he told a news conference on Tuesday, adding that the move might help restrain the “hotheads” who are hoping for international intervention in the conflict.
Israel warns on arms shipments
Israel has stridently objected to the shipment of weapons, and Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon warned Tuesday of a strong response to any such delivery.
"The deliveries have not taken place, and I hope they do not," Yaalon said. "But if, by misfortune, they arrive in Syria, we will know what to do."
Britain and France, the EU's biggest military powers, had been pushing the bloc to lift its embargo on the delivery of weapons to help the opposition.
But the Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army fighting Assad have struggled with internal divisions, inspiring little confidence in potential European partners.
In August of last year, the UN said Syrian opposition forces had also committed war crimes, including murder and torture, even if abuses were not of the same gravity, frequency and scale as those committed by Assad’s regime.
The EU said it would review its position on the arms embargo to opposition forces before August after scheduled discussions with the UN secretary general and based on the developments of an ongoing joint US-Russia initiative for peace talks in Geneva.
France and Britain said Tuesday that an agreement not to send weapons shipments before an August 1 limit could be breached if necessary, but said they had no current plans to do so.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-05-28