EU extends sanctions on Syria, amends arms embargo to help civilians

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The EU governments on Monday extended sanctions against Syria for a further three months but said they amended an arms embargo to provide more non-lethal support and technical assistance to protect civilians.
A statement agreed by EU foreign ministers said the sanctions were renewed for three more months to end-May but that they were “amending them so as to provide greater non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians.”

The decision, taken at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting, was a compromise after weeks of disagreement between Britain, which was pushing for an easing of the arms embargo to help rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, and a number of other EU countries opposed to letting more weapons into the country.
In an apparent nod to the U.K the ministers adopted a non-specific amendment “so as to provide greater non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that the meaning of that would be defined in meetings among the representatives of member countries to the union. She denied to reporters that the wording was a political fudge.

Still, British Foreign Secretary William Hague appeared to claim victory, saying many countries had not even wanted to discuss changing the embargo at a meeting in November.

“Most states were opposed to any amendment of the embargo and today we have amended it in a very important way, in a couple of very important ways,” Hague said.

He added that further amendments could be made three months from now, an indication that Britain might continue its push to arm the rebels.

“We will have to have that debate at the time, and I think that will depend on whether any political progress is now made in Syria and depend on the continued loss of life which continues on an appalling and unacceptable scale,” Hague said.

Several EU foreign ministers said, in strong terms, that they opposed sending any more arms into the ravaged country.

That view was supported Monday by a new report by a U.N.-appointed panel that said Syria’s civil war is becoming increasingly sectarian and the behavior of both sides is growing more and more radicalized. The report urged the international community to curb the supply of weapons and anti-government forces to part with foreign fighters.

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