No extension of EU arms embargo on Syrian rebels

Syrian rebels take position in a house during clashes with regime froces in the old city of Aleppo on May 22, 2013.(AFP Photo / Ricardo Garcia Vilanova)
British Foreign Secretary William Hague says the European Union has agreed to lift its arms embargo on the Syrian opposition. However there will be no immediate arms supplies.

The news comes after the failure by EU governments to agree on extending the arms embargo, effectively freeing their hands to supply the Syrian opposition with weapons, said the British Foreign Secretary on Monday in Brussels.

The collective sanctions leveled at Syria were set to expire on June 1.

“Tonight EU (European Union) nations agreed to bring the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition to an end. This was the outcome that the United Kingdom wanted. It was a difficult decision for some countries, but it was necessary and right to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria,” Hague said.

He added that Britain has no immediate plans to engage in any weapons supplies just yet. Other members appeared to agree on this. However, Hague also said that the move "sends a very strong message from Europe to the Assad regime."

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has also stressed that Britain may start arming the rebels before an August 1 deadline, saying that it has a right to do so from now on. At the same time, he noted that Britain would only send arms to Syrian rebels with other countries and not in violation of international law.

Britain and France have long been pressuring the EU to lift the arms embargo.

Despite failure to extend the embargo, the European powers have reached a consensus on extending all of the bloc's financial sanctions on the Syrian government for another year.

All 27 members agreed on the need to closely monitor and control any weapons exports to ensure they do not fall into extremist hands. The text of a joint EU statement read that “Member states shall require adequate safeguards against misuse of authorizations (for export) granted.”

There were dissenting voices amongst the bloc – one of them Austria, who has been opposing any such tactic, saying it would only exacerbate the crisis in Syria. However, at the end of the meeting it appeared inclined not to entirely discard the possibility.

The French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had left the meeting earlier to fly to Paris, where Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry were busy planning an upcoming Geneva meeting on this issue, as well as the possibility of choosing a transitional Syrian government by mutual consent between Bashar Assad and the opposition.

The EU has for the most part been strongly opposed to Assad’s presidency, openly backing the Syrian rebels in a conflict which has now been raging for two years and has claimed upwards of 80,000 lives, according to May estimates by the UN.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague (L) and Belgium's Foreign minister Didier Reynders talk prior to the Foreign Affairs Council on May 27, 2013 at the EU Headquarters in Brussels. (AFP Photo / Georges Gobet)

The arms embargo is really a joke in the sense that it basically makes official what has already been going on, believes Richard Becker from the ANSWER coalition.

“The arms embargo is a bit of a fiction anyways. The arms are pouring in… from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, undoubtedly organized by the United States and other powers. What they really mean is they want to send heavier weapons, because the opposition has suffered serious setbacks recently,” Becker told RT.

Despite all-around acknowledgement that steps are being taken toward a diplomatic solution in Syria by moving toward a transitional government, Becker believes the whole idea is aimed at fulfilling precisely the same ambitions as before.

“At the Friends of Syria meeting Kerry made it clear that those so-called ‘friends’ – NATO powers and Arab states – intend to increase support for the opposition until there’s a transitional government. It’s important to note what he meant by ‘transitional government’: it’s a government without the present Syrian government being represented. I think it’s clear they’re stepping it up on a number of different fronts.”