First Published: 2013-02-18

 

Europe to Syrian opposition: No to arms, yes to ‘non-lethal’ aid

 

EU foreign ministers stop short of meeting demand to lift arms embargo on Syria but agree to allow ‘non-lethal’ aid, ‘technical assistance’ to flow to opposition.

 

Middle East Online

By Claire Rosemberg – BRUSSELS

More weapons = More deaths

European Union foreign ministers on Monday stopped short of meeting Britain's demand to lift an arms embargo on Syria but agreed to allow "non-lethal" aid and "technical assistance" to flow to the opposition.

"We would've gone further, some were against. This is a compromise," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague at the close of talks with his 26 EU counterparts. "We will return to it in three months."

After weeks of "divisive" talk on whether to arm Syria's rebels, the ministers in a lengthy session agreed to renew sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad until the end of May that notably bar the supply of any lethal weaponry to the country -- regime or rebel.

But this was while "amending them so as to provide greater non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians," an EU statement said.

The ministers would again "assess and review, if necessary, the sanctions regime" after three months, it added.

Hague said details on goods or expertise -- such as trainers, helmets or protective clothing -- likely to flow to Syria would be issued in the coming days, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said legal experts would ensure the change was in line with common policy.

"It's not about military support," said Ashton. "It's about how to make sure to give the best possible support to the protection of civilians."

Hague however said the agreement to amend the arms embargo "establishes an extremely important precedent."

The bloc's wide-ranging measures against Syria, including the arms ban but also targeting scores of Assad cronies and regime-friendly firms, as well as oil, trade and finance, expire at the end of the month.

Their renewal requires unanimity.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, whose country along with Italy offered London some backing, said Monday's decision showed "extra support" for the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) fighting the Assad regime and a response to a request for aid from SNC leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib.

"The decision's in line with France's position. So I'm very pleased," he said.

Hague on arrival had called for changes to the existing arms ban "so that we can provide a broader range of support to the National Coalition."

"We give them strong political and diplomatic support. We also give them assistance in terms of equipment at the moment to help them try to save people's lives," he added. "I think there is a broader range of equipment that we could give to them."

But Britain found little support with only days left before the deadline to renew the sanctions expired.

"I don't see any need to amend the embargo, I don't think it would make sense to send more weapons to Syria," said Austria's Michael Spindelegger, echoing counterparts from Cyprus, Sweden and Spain.

Even Ashton, a British baroness who represents London on the European Commission, appeared opposed.

"Delivering arms might bring about a new military balance on the ground," said an internal paper on the matter drafted for the member states by her service.

"But it could also fuel further militarisation of the conflict, increase risks of dissemination among extremist groups and of arms proliferation in a post-Assad Syria," said the paper.

"Broadly speaking any EU decision allowing arms transfer to the opposition should take into account obligations under international law as well as EU Treaty and principles," the paper added.

Sweden's Carl Bildt had underlined the ill timing of any such move, saying the EU should "concentrate the maximum support" on current efforts to push a political settlement."

UN peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was supposed to attend Monday's talks but had to pull out as efforts mount to make good an offer from al-Khatib to negotiate with some regime figures.

 

Iran nuclear talks enter their final day

After a month-long battle, Tikrit 'liberated'

Kuwait emir pledges $500 million at Syria donors conference

Arab coalition pounds Yemeni capital

Ancient Libyan treasures now in ISIS' sights

Armed group takes prosecutor hostage in Istanbul

Palestine must wait for its day in court

UN rights chief expresses alarm on Yemen situation

Suicide blast in Iraq on bus carrying Iranian pilgrims

Iraq forces ‘retake’ government HQ in Tikrit

Massive power cut causes chaos across Turkey

Assad does not see Russia, Iran interests in Syria

Confidence in Tunisia ability to rebound as museum reopens to public

Iran claims US drone killed two military advisers in Iraq

Court finds ex-Israel Premier Olmert guilty in corruption retrial

Deadly air strike hits camp for displaced people in northwest Yemen

Erdogan insists on visit to Iran despite war-of-words

UN chief in Iraq for talks with top officials

UN warns of horrifying Syria 'catastrophe'

Iran asks for explanation on Erdogan comments

One day to Iran nuclear talks deadline

Yemen ex-president's son sacked as ambassador to UAE

At time of war, cigar business launched in Syria

Yemen Huthi rebels bombed for fifth night

Saudi police officers wounded in Riyadh drive-by shooting

World leaders show solidarity with Tunisia in march against extremism

Guarded optimism as Iran nuclear talks close in on deal

Dialogue remains distant as Arabs vow to defeat Iran 'puppet' in Yemen

Egypt renews calls for creation of joint military force at Arab summit

Saudi ambassador to return to Sweden after diplomatic spat

Libya forces ‘withdraw’ from frontline bases near oil ports

Qaeda seizes 'majority' of Syria northwestern city of Idlib

Torturous Iran talks move into top gear in battle of wills

UN Security Council keeps Libya arms embargo in place

Saudi-led airstrikes target arms depots in Yemen capital

Death toll from hotel attack rises as fighting continues in Somalia

Oil prices fall after Yemen-inspired gains

Turkish parliament passes security bill after long debate

Turkey army chief of staff visits historic tomb inside Syria

Saudi-led coalition keeps up raids against Yemen rebels

Assad says open to dialogue with US

US backs Saudi-led intervention in Yemen

Heavy Saudi raids force Sanaa residents to flee

Israeli Arab MP walks for Bedouins

Gulf stocks regain ground after early losses over Yemen