François Hollande tells EU: it's time to send arms to Syrian rebels

Britain and France join forces at Brussels summit in bid to lift weapons embargo

Brussels

Britain and France are pushing the European Union to lift an arms embargo to allow them to funnel weapons to Syria's opposition, with President Francois Hollande warning that the threat of chemical weapons meant the moment had come to scale up involvement in the civil war.

David Cameron plans to use meetings at a European Council summit in Brussels today to urge other member states to look again at the terms of the embargo, which currently allows for the supply of armoured vehicles and body armour, but no lethal weapons such as guns and anti-aircraft missiles.

“We can and must go further,” President Hollande said. “Bashar al-Assad clearly wants to use any military means to strike his own people... All of the initiatives to open up the political discussion have been doomed to fail because of Bashar al-Assad. We have to go further because there are some threats as to the potential use of chemical weapons. Therefore we must take our responsibilities.”

While there has been little proof that Assad is planning to use chemical weapons against his own people, US officials have expressed concern that the regime could deploy them if they feel cornered by opposition forces.

Mr Hollande said he and Mr Cameron will press other EU members to lift the arms embargo before it comes up for discussion again in May, but they will likely face opposition from nations including Germany, which fear intervention will fuel the civil war and further destabilise the region.

Mr Cameron had raised the prospect this week that Britain could break the arms embargo, saying that without agreement to amend the ban “we might have to do things in our own way”. A British government spokesperson said they were keen “to inject political momentum” into efforts to end the two-year Syrian civil war, in which more than 70,000 people have been killed.

Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has warned that supplying weapons to the opposition could be in breach international law. The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, argued earlier that the military balance between Mr Assad's forces and the rebels was shifting because the Iranian regime and the Russians were directly arming government forces.

France and Britain led efforts to intervene in Libya in 2011, but they will probably face stiffer opposition over Syria, with nations fearful that the weapons could end up in the hands of Islamist extremists.

Mr Hollande was speaking on the sidelines of a European Union summit, where leaders were debating whether tough austerity measures are helping to drag Europe back to prosperity, or condemning millions to unemployment and hardship.

Before the leaders arrived, thousands of anti-austerity protesters gathered in the snow to demand an end to policies which they say are causing misery for Europe's citizens.

“It is difficult for everyone, the rich get to be rich, rich, rich, while the poor are poor, poor, poor,” said Marie Blanche Pietta, 50, who has seen the Belgium nursery where she works lose its government funding.

The leaders are not expected to make any binding decisions at the summit, but the communiqué will be examined for signs that pro-austerity leaders such Germany's Angela Merkel and Mr Cameron are willing to soften their stance in the face of widespread discontent in Europe.

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Voices
A Siberian Tiger
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

SAP BW BO

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW BO - 6 MONTHS - LONDON London (Gr...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried