Syrian arms embargo to be reviewed

Cameron said Britain was leading the way among international efforts as the second-largest donor to humanitarian aid.

European countries including Britain are to review the arms embargo in Syria as part of continuing efforts to support the opposition to President Assad, David Cameron told the Commons today.

The Prime Minister told MPs last week's gathering of European leaders had agreed there was a "moral imperative" for action in Syria, which has seen bloody fighting for more than a year.

Mr Cameron said Britain was leading the way among international efforts as the second-largest donor to humanitarian aid.

And reporting on the European Council in a statement to MPs, Mr Cameron said: "A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Syria on our watch, with over 40,000 dead and millions in need of urgent assistance as a hard winter approaches.

"We continue to encourage political transition from the top and to support the opposition which is attempting to force a transition from below.

"This should include and will include looking at the arms embargo. We must now explore all options to support the opposition to enable greater support for the protection of civilians."

Mr Cameron said there was also a strategic imperative to act because of a "growing cohort of al Qaida-linked extremists" in the country meaning there was a growing risk of regional instability.

He said: "We cannot go on as we are. Assad's regime is illegitimate, the council committed to work for a future for Syria that is democratic and inclusive with full support for human rights and minorities."

Answering Labour leader Ed Miliband, Mr Cameron added: "It is right to look at amending the arms embargo; of course, we will be keeping the arms embargo on the regime.

"There are arguments on both sides of the debate but it is a debate that should be had, that European foreign ministers will be having.

"My concern is that if we, with others, aren't helping to shape and work with the opposition, it's much more difficult to get the transition we all want to see to a peaceful, democratic Syria that respects the rights of minorities."

Responding to the statement, Mr Miliband said: "The international community must work together to end the atrocities immediately and speak with one voice in favour of a transition to a new government.

"You mentioned the arms embargo while also noting Syria is attracting a new cohort of al Qaida-linked extremists. In that context, can you go further and tell us if you are actively urging the EU to end its arms embargo or merely amending its terms?

"Do you recognise, notwithstanding the deep concern in the international community about the situation in Syria, some of the dangers in this approach, in putting weapons into a zone in which there is already deep conflict?"

Mr Cameron warned MPs that al Qaida-linked terrorists were operating in Syria as the country fragmented.

He said: "The elements that are linked to al Qaida are linked to elements of the opposition and there is very strong evidence that groups ... take an unacceptable view about Islamic extremism.

"There are very real concerns about this issue and this leads to the argument about how involved we should get with the Syrian opposition.

"There is a strong argument for saying that by being more involved with other like-minded allies, we would be able to try and support those elements of the opposition that most want to see a free and democratic and inclusive Syria."

In exchanges on Mr Cameron's statement in the House of Lords, Independent Labour peer Lord Stoddart of Swindon criticised the possible lifting of the arms embargo.

He said: "Arms mean more death. Will not the Government embark on a peace process rather than a war process and the support of some elements in Syria that are nasty and vicious and should not be supported?"

Leader of the House Lord Strathclyde, who had repeated Mr Cameron's statement, said it would be "premature" to lift the embargo but it was "right to keep it under review".

Labour former foreign secretary Jack Straw said the Government needed to engage Russia to stop the conflict in Syria.

He said: "Could you say what further efforts are being made with the Russians to try and secure some international agreement, however difficult this may be, given that Russia's compliance and consent is crucial to some overall settlement?"

Mr Cameron said if there was to be a change in government in Syria "from the top", the Russians needed to be part of the process. He added: "The Foreign Secretary (William Hague) has met and spoken to them regularly. I have discussed this issue with President Putin.

"There was a report on Thursday whilst we were in the European Council that the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister had made some interesting remarks about Syria so we will read those with care.

"Clearly everything we can do at the UN and with countries like Russia is worthwhile."

PA

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
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
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
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
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
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
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

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

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

Agile Tester

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

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
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