Saturday

21st Sep 2019

UK seeks EU support on arming Syrian rebels

  • Should EU ministers lift sanctions on delivery of weapons to rebels in Syria? (Photo: Travel Aficionado)

Britain's William Hague was almost alone on Monday (18 February) in saying EU countries should give weapons to Syrian rebels.

Coming into a foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels, he told media: "We have given them [the rebels] strong political and diplomatic support. We have also given them assistance in terms of equipment to save people's lives. But I think there's a broader range of equipment that we can give them."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The EU's arms embargo on Syria expires at the end of the month.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main rebel force, which is currently fighting the Russian-armed regime with home-made weapons, has called for help with anti-aircraft defences to stop jets from bombing civilians.

It has also warned that the status quo is helping better-armed anti-regime jihadists to gain popular support.

An EU diplomat told this website that France, the former colonial power in Syria, has indicated it would back the UK on relaxing the EU arms ban in order to arm the FSA.

Another EU diplomat said: "Britain is not isolated. There is a long way to go in the discussion and no decisions will be taken today."

Several ministers voiced concerns on Monday morning, however.

Belgium's Didier Reynders said: "If we lift the embargo, we have to be sure we can control the distribution of arms … the idea is not to arm the extremists in the country."

Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy, Romania and Spain said the main priority is to find a "political solution" and to ship more humanitarian aid.

Sweden's Carl Bildt said EU arms might block any chance of getting Russia to stop supporting Syria in the UN Security Council. "If we take steps that divide the UN even further that plays, in the short term, into the hands of the regime," he noted.

The Czech republic, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Poland were the strongest sceptics.

"We have to make sure we don't contribute to the further militarisation of Syria," Ireland's Eamonn Gilmore said. "We think that pouring fuel onto the fire is very risky," Poland's Radek Sikorski noted.

For her part, Vesna Pusic, the foreign minister of Croatia, which is set to join the EU in July, predicted: "It seems the current sanctions will be prolonged for three months and then we will discuss the matter again."

Hezbollah

The EU Council is also to see a debate on Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

The Bulgarian foreign minister, Nikolay Mladenov, will at lunch brief ministers on an investigation into the killing of five Jewish tourists and a local bus driver in Burgas, on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, last year.

Mladenov told press on Monday the attack "was organised by people linked to the military wing of Hezbollah."

He also called for the EU to list the group, or a part of it, as a terrorist entity. "We will want to have collective measures in the EU to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.

He noted that Bulgarian security services will brief counterparts in EU interior ministries in the coming weeks.

The foreign ministers are not planning to take any decisions on Hezbollah for now.

But EU officials have in the past warned that foreign policy questions, such as whether listing the group might destabilise Lebanon, will be a factor in the Union's decision.

Feature

Back from hell, back from Syria

The West should give the Free Syrian Army food and anti-aircraft defences, one EU parliament official says after visiting the war torn country.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'
  2. UK secrecy on Brexit holds back wider EU talks
  3. Feminist mass protest in Spain after 19 murders this summer
  4. Global climate strike starts ahead of UN summit
  5. UK Brexit minister to meet Barnier on Friday
  6. Russia-Ukraine gas deal talks show 'progress'
  7. Nobel economist: Ireland 'not good EU citizen' on taxes
  8. Germany takes carbon border tax on board

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Opinion

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Europe goes to New York This WEEK
  2. Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations
  3. Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril
  4. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  5. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  6. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  7. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  8. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us