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France seeks to arm Syrian rebels, Russia says that would be illegal

Published: Updated:

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called Wednesday for lifting a European arms embargo on Syria as a way to begin supplying weapons to the opposition there. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that arming Syrian rebels would breach international law.

“We must go further and allow the Syrian people to defend themselves against this bloody regime. It's our duty to help the Coalition, its leaders and the Free Syrian army by all means possible,” Fabius wrote in the daily Liberation newspaper.

France and Britain want the European Union to amend an arms embargo on sending arms to Syria which is part of a package of sanctions that rolls over every three months but they face opposition, notably from Germany.

“We must convince our partners, particularly in Europe, that we no longer have any other choice than to lift the embargo on arms to benefit the Coalition,” Fabius wrote in the article, timed to mark the conflict reaching two years.

“More than 70,000 dead and a million refugees, the systematic destruction of a country: the second anniversary of the launch of the Syrian revolution is an anniversary of blood and tears,” he said.

After weeks of wrangling, Britain has persuaded the EU to agree to relax its embargo to allow non-lethal but quasi-military aid such as body armor and armored vehicles to be supplied to the Syrian opposition.

But Germany has warned that giving the rebels arms could lead to a proliferation of weapons in the volatile region and spark regional conflagration and a proxy war.

Russia has warned that supplying Syrian rebels with arms would breach international law.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said, “International law does not allow, does not permit supplies of arms to non-governmental actors and in our point of view it is a violation of international law.”

Lavrov rejected any chance of Moscow urging Assad to step aside to end the two-year-old conflict, which the United Nations says has claimed 70,000 lives.

“I believe the destiny of Bashar al-Assad should be decided by the Syrians themselves,” he said.

With the conflict in Syria worsening, Western powers have stepped up non-military support for Syria's rebels, even as Russia has continued to arm its ally Assad.