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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...