Britain considers breaking EU embargo to arm Syrian rebels
Britain said on Tuesday it could break with a European Union arms embargo on Syria to allow for arming opposition fighters as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad vowed to fight “for years.”
The arms embargo is part of a package of EU sanctions on Syria that currently roll over every three months, with the last extension achieved with the agreement of all 27 EU members on March 1.
Britain pushed for and won an agreement to amend the embargo to allow the supply of non-lethal equipment such as body armored vehicles to rebels, but warned that in future it might act alone.
Without unanimous agreement between all EU members to either renew or amend the ban in three months’ time, the embargo becomes void.
“I hope that we can persuade our European partners, if and when a further change becomes necessary, they will agree with us,” Prime Minister David Cameron told a parliamentary committee when asked whether Britain could “veto” the embargo.
“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,” he added.
On Monday, France urged the European Union to look again at lifting the arms embargo, putting it at odds with Germany which said such a step could spread conflict in the region.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said ending the embargo would help level the playing field in the two-year-old conflict in which 70,000 people have died. His German counterpart Guido Westerwelle said that could lead to a proliferation of weapons in the region and spark a proxy war.
Fighting for years
Meanwhile, Syria said it is ready to fight “for years” against rebels trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad, as the U.N. warned a generation of children risked being lost in the spiraling violence.
As the conflict which the U.N. says has killed more than 70,000 people approached its third year without a solution in sight, President Shimon Peres of neighboring Israel urged Arab intervention to end the “massacre.”
On the battlefield, rebels and troops fought fierce battles over the contested district of Baba Amr in third city Homs, and clashed on the road linking Damascus to the international airport.
Pro-government daily Al-Watan said the army was “in perfect condition” to defend Syria, but stressed citizens could also join in the battle, echoing a call made by the country’s top religious authority.
“Soldiers and officers have been fighting for two years with a courage and bravery unparalleled in world history, in the fiercest of battles,” the newspaper said.
“The Syrian army has at its disposal enough men and weapons to fight for years to defend Syria.”
The pro-regime High Islamic Council had on Monday stressed that “the defense of a united Syria and the Syrian people is an obligation which all (citizens)... must fulfill.”
Syria “is in a state of war”, said al-Watan, adding the council’s appeal aimed to encourage citizens to get involved in defending the nation which is “facing a real invasion” from its neighbors Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Assad’s regime, which has consistently blamed foreign powers for the violence in Syria, also sent letters to the U.N. urging “pressure on certain Arab and Western countries that supply aid to terrorism.”
In Homs, which the insurgents have dubbed the “capital” of their two-year uprising, fighting focused on Khaldiyeh, with regime forces backed by tanks pounding the northern district, activists said.
The fighting comes one week into a massive army and pro-regime militia assault to reclaim Homs’s Baba Amr district that has become a symbol of resistance before the army overran it a year ago.
“Troops launched rockets from the Baath university into parts of Baba Amr,” said the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers for its reporting.
Battles also raged on the road linking Damascus to the airport, southeast of the capital, said the watchdog. Rebels have for months being trying to seize control of the road.