France ready to support the Syrian rebels with weapons to 'tip the balance'
French President Francois Hollande attends a press conference at the EU Headquarters on Thursday in Brussels. (AFP PHOTO / BERTRAND LANGLOIS)
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French President Francois Hollande on Thursday called on Europe's leaders to lift an arms embargo on Syria to help insurgents fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Arriving for a two-day summit with European Union leaders, Hollande said: "We want Europeans to lift the arms embargo."
"We are ready to support the rebellion, so we are ready to go this far. We must take our responsibilities," Hollande told journalists.
Noting that countries including Russia were providing arms to Assad's regime, Hollande said France "must convince its European partners" to tip the balance by ending the embargo, although the issue was not on the agenda for the Brussels summit.
"Britain and France agree on this option," he said.
Several European countries are opposed, warning that increasing the amount of weapons on the ground will only escalate Syria's conflict.
"We cannot allow a people to be massacred by a regime that for now does not want a political transition," Hollande said.
Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron met separately at the start of the summit to discuss Syria, Cameron's spokeswoman said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius earlier said London and Paris were seeking to drop the EU ban, angering Damascus but drawing a guarded welcome from the opposition.
Paris and London are expected to press for quick new EU talks on the embargo, which was extended on February 28 for three months by EU foreign ministers, though such sanctions are always reviewed in case events change.
At the February talks, ministers agreed however 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.