EU rejects Britain and France's appeal to let them arm Syrian rebels

European leaders block call to lift embargo on supplying weapons to opposition

Brussels

Britain and France found themselves isolated today after their call to lift an embargo on supplying weapons to Syrian rebels was rejected by EU leaders, who are fearful of sparking an arms race with Russia and escalating a conflict which has already left 70,000 people dead.

France's President Francois Hollande went into the EU summit yesterday calling on his fellow leaders to lift the embargo before it expires in May. David Cameron's office said they wanted to use the two-year anniversary of the uprising today to prod other nations into stepping up assistance.

But at meetings today, Germany, Austria, Sweden and other nations disagreed. “One has to ask if it doesn't fan the flames of the conflict,“ said Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel. “What is important is to act together as Europeans, just the fact that two have changed their minds is not enough for 25 to follow suit.”

Ms Merkel added that the EU foreign policy chief – Catherine Ashton, a Labour peer – had also spoken out against putting weapons in the hands of the opposition. “Lady Ashton said Iran and Russia were looking for the development to resume arms exports to (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad,” the chancellor said.

Russia has stood by Assad throughout the conflict and continues to ship weapons to the regime, despite pleas from Europe and the United States to use their clout to force Assad to negotiate.

One diplomat struggled to come up with the names of any countries that backed Mr Hollande and Mr Cameron's proposals: “There are many member states that have reservations,” the diplomat said.

Speaking after the meetings, the Prime Minister said that there was a “good understanding” among other EU members of the urgency of finding a solution to the bloodshed in Syria. He said the discussions would continue at an EU foreign ministers meeting later this month.

The arms embargo was relaxed last month to allow for non lethal assistance to be channelled to the rebels. It still forbids the provision of guns, and France and Britain have argued that this is creating an imbalance as arms flow from Russia and Iran to regime forces. The embargo is up for renewal on 31 May, so if Mr Cameron and Mr Hollande do not manage to cobble together support for amending it, they could simply vote against renewing the measures. This, however, could mean a whole package of sanctions against the regime would also expire.

Asked if he would act without Europe's support, Mr Cameron said Britain was a sovereign country that would act “in our national interests“.

The debate comes as Syrians marked two years since the uprising began in the town of Deraa. Rebels vowed attacks to mark the day, and regime forces beefed up security in the capital, Damascus.

Louay Almokdad, a political coordinator for the Free Syrian Army, urged Britain and France to keep pushing to provide the rebels with anti-aircraft weapons, anti-tank missiles and logistical support.

“At the moment, we don’t have enough to create a safe zone for civilians in the north,” he said. “We have given all the guarantees they want. The weapons would be under trained officers and they would not go to any extremist groups.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
News
David Ryall in Harry Potter
people
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?