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France and UK ready to arm Syrian rebels

Amid disagreements between EU governments over a Syrian arms embargo, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (photo) said France and Britain were ready to lift the embargo without unanimous EU support.

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Amid mounting disagreements between European governments over an EU arms embargo on Syria, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France and Britain are ready to arm Syrian rebels without unanimous EU support.

Speaking on France Info radio on Thursday, Fabius noted that arming the rebels is “one of the only means left to make things move politically'' in Syria.

Syrian opposition factions embraced French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’ comments on Thursday saying that France and Britain would seek to lift an EU embargo preventing the two countries from sending arms to rebel forces in Syria.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime condemned the move, criticising it as a “flagrant violation” of international law.

When asked if France and Britain could join efforts to arm the opposition, Fabius said, “to lift the embargo, exactly”.

France is pushing for an urgent EU meeting on lifting the arms embargo. In his interview Fabius said, “We have to go very fast. The Europeans are supposed to look at this question in several weeks. But we will ask, with the British, to bring forward that meeting.”

Fabius’ comments came days after British Prime Minister David Cameron hinted that the UK could break with some of its fellow EU members on the Syrian arms embargo issue.

Speaking at a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, Cameron said, “"I hope that we can persuade our European partners, if and when a further change becomes necessary, they will agree with us," before adding, "but if we can't, then it's not out of the question we might have to do things in our own way. It's possible."

Both Britain and France have been pushing to lift the Syria embargo as a means to level the playing field in a two-year conflict that has killed around 70,000 people.

But Germany, the other powerhouse in the 27-member EU, has been reluctant to lift the embargo, fearing it would lead to proliferation of weapons in the region and spark a proxy war.

The US has maintained its position that it does not wish to send arms that it fears could fall into Islamist hands.

Fabius has maintained the lifting of the arms embargo is essential since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is being supplied with weapons by Iran and Russia and the (opposition) Syrian National Coalition does not have access to heavy weapons.

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