Turkey hails move to arm Syria rebels

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Turkey is supporting measures toward arming Syrian rebels as Paris and London seek to lift an EU embargo that would enable them to arm rebels.

“If the international community displayed in a very clear and decisive manner the will to stop the Syrian regime waging war, there would be no need for any kind of arming,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on March 14 at a press conference with Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Titus Corlatean in Ankara. Earlier in the day, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris and London are seeking to lift an EU embargo that would enable them to arm Syrian rebels, arguing that Moscow’s supply of weapons to Damascus is giving the regime an unfair edge.

Ground-to-air missiles

French officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Paris was considering providing the rebels with ground-to-air missiles to retaliate against air strikes by government troops. “Turkey would prefer that nobody used arms in Syria, but the Syrian regime is attacking its people using Scud missiles,” Davutoğlu said, adding that in the current situation this embargo was serving the regime. The Syrian regime can purchase arms from third-party countries, but the Syrian people cannot, according to Davutoğlu. “This injustice should be removed,” he said. “The arms embargo [for the Syrian opposition] allows the continuation of the Syrian regime’s use of arms.”

The European Union is sharply divided over the issue, with some fearing that sending more weapons to Syria could further escalate the brutal, two-year conflict. Fabius said Paris and London plan to call for the next EU meeting on the weapons ban, currently scheduled for the end of May, to be held sooner.

“The position that we have taken with President Francois Hollande is to ask [the European Union] to lift the embargo on arms [to the rebels],” he said. Fabius said Paris could decide to arm the rebels even if the 27-member body does not give unanimous agreement, underscoring that France “is a sovereign nation” and hinting at independent action. The EU last month amended its embargo to allow member nations to supply “non-lethal” equipment and training to the opposition but stopped short of lifting the ban entirely. Fabius said Paris and London did not rule out a gathering before the end of March. “We must move quickly,” he said. “We, along with the British, will ask for the meeting to be moved forward.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said March 12 that Britain would consider sidestepping the EU arms ban and supplying weapons to Syrian rebels if it would help topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Fabius told France Info Radio that France and Britain will ask “the Europeans now to lift the embargo so that the resistance fighters have the possibility of defending themselves.”

“We cannot accept the current disequilibrium with Iran and Russia supplying arms to al-Assad on the one hand and the opposition unable to defend itself on the other,” he said. Fabius’s comments were welcomed by the Syrian opposition as a step in the right direction, but condemned by the al-Assad regime, who said arming the rebels was “a flagrant violation” of international law.

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