Britain takes step towards arming Syrian rebels

Nov 8, 2012

Cameron wants to push the limits of EU embargo and persuade Obama to raise the heat on Assad


BRITAIN is to consider arming the opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria after David Cameron admitted the West has not done enough to help. The government will now examine whether a “humanitarian reasons” clause in the current EU embargo allows us to send weapons direct to Syria’s rebel armies.

Yesterday Cameron spent the final day of his visit to the Middle East at a UN refugee camp in Jordan, where he was greeted by cheering children, according to the Daily Mail.

At the 20,000-strong Za'atari refugee camp he heard "truly horrendous" stories of suffering which helped to persuade him of the need for Britain to do more to aid Syrians fighting the Assad regime.

"That means more help for the opposition, more pressure at the UN, more help for the refugees, more work with the neighbours but also a general sort of: 'Look, let's be frank, what we've done for the last 18 months hasn't been enough'," Cameron told reporters.

Cameron also pledged to raise the issue with the newly re-elected American president: "One of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis."

Meanwhile The Guardian reports that next week's meeting of the National Security Council will be dedicated to the crisis in Syria, and No 10 sources say that the EU ban on arms sales could be relaxed.

The embargo says that member states "may authorise the sale, supply, transfer or export of equipment which might be used for internal repression... if they determine that such equipment is intended solely for humanitarian or protective use".

The government believes this stage has been reached, and that it might be able to change its current stance as outlined to MPs by Foreign Secretary William Hague: that Britain would "only supply non-lethal support to the unarmed opposition".

But the Government could come under criticism for funding rebel groups about whom it knows very little, as Tory backbencher Rory Stewart warned during last year's Libyan conflict.

Recent media reports have suggested that the Free Syria Army is involved in kidnappings and has links to al-Qaeda.

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