France will discuss supplying arms to Syrian opposition forces with its European partners in the coming weeks now that an opposition coalition has been established, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday.
France is wary of militarizing the 20-month-old conflict, but is also wary of leaving areas under opposition control unprotected against bomb attacks, Reuters reported Fabius saying in an interview with RTL radio.
“At the moment there is an embargo on arms, so no weapons are being delivered from Europe. The question will undoubtedly be raised for defensive arms but it’s something we can only do in coordination with the rest of Europe,” Fabius said.
He said Paris was talking to Moscow and United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi over a solution, as it waited for the Syrian coalition to form a provisional government in the weeks ahead that could open the door to supplying arms.
“We want to avoid going towards militarization. On the other hand we must prevent liberated zones from being destroyed. We must find a fair balance,” Fabius said.
However, Russia on Thursday warned nations backing the Syrian opposition against President Bashar al-Assad that they would violate international law if they started supplying the rebels with weapons.
“Promises are being made from a number of capitals of massive supplies of modern weapons,” foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters. “Outside help to the opposition waging an armed battle against a legitimate government is a gross violation of fundamental norms of international law.”
Paris on Tuesday became the first European capital to recognize the coalition as sole representative of the Syrian people and said it would look at arming rebels battling President Assad’s forces once a provisional government is formed.
France has thus far ruled out sending weapons, concerned they could get into the hands of radical Islamists, but the coalition is urging European states to allow it access to arms.
President Francois Hollande will also meet George Sabra, the new leader of the Syrian National Council - now a minority player in the wider coalition - in Paris on Saturday, Fabius said.
Britain to hold Syrian ‘options’ meeting
Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron was to chair a meeting of senior cabinet colleagues on Thursday to discuss Britain’s military, humanitarian and diplomatic options in Syria, the BBC reported.
Cameron’s deputy Nick Clegg and finance minister George Osborne were expected to attend the meeting along with Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defense Secretary Philip Hammond.
The report said a no-fly zone was among the options that may be discussed as well as supplying anti-aircraft weapons to the rebels fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Cameron visited the Zaatari refugee camp, home to some 36,000 Syrian refugees, in Jordan last week.
Downing Street did not immediately confirm that the meeting was taking place.
There were reports, however, that Britain was already arming or training Syrian rebels.
On Tuesday, the London Daily Star reported that British Special Forces are training rebels to assassinate the Syrian president and his commanders.
Britain and France spearheaded what later became NATO’s operation to oust Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The United States and Britain have both voiced support for the Syrian opposition coalition, which formed in Qatar on Sunday, but have stopped short of declaring it a government-in-exile.
More than 39,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad's regime erupted 20 months ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog said on Thursday.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Thursday claimed control of government buildings the northwestern city of Al-Rika and captured 30 Syrian regime soldiers, Syrian Media Network reported.
FSA also claimed control over Assad regime’s security area in the eastern city of Abu Kamal.