Francois Hollande defends Syria weapons plan

 

Francois Hollande said he was confident the flow of arms could be controlled

France's president has defended his plan to supply arms to Syria's rebels, as activists mark two years since the anti-government uprising began.

Speaking after an EU meeting, Francois Hollande said the rebels had given guarantees that weapons would not fall into the wrong hands.

France and the UK want the EU to lift its arms embargo, but Germany says it has not yet decided if it agrees.

An estimated 70,000 people have been killed and one million have fled Syria.

The status of the rebels has become one of the thorniest issues for foreign governments.

A number of explosions and suicide attacks have been blamed on armed groups believed to have links to al-Qaeda and the rebels.

Russia remains an ally of President Bashar al-Assad's government and opposes arming the rebels.

Analysis

David Cameron and Francois Hollande wanted to mark the second anniversary of the Syrian uprising by sending a clear message - we're not doing enough.

But the idea of lifting the arms embargo provoked heated discussion. Angela Merkel, who has yet to decide on Germany's stance, said at one stage that she did not want to be treated like an idiot.

EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton warned that the supply of weapons to the opposition could be used by Iran as an excuse to increase arms exports across the region.

The UK and France, though, are the most significant military powers in the EU, and when they act together on issues like this their arguments carry considerable weight. Foreign ministers will now take the debate forward. If no compromise is found, London and/or Paris could choose to go it alone.

But that would be controversial and would expose real splits in the EU. It would also mean the entire sanctions package could potentially fall apart. No-one in the EU wants that to happen.

The Syrian government characterises all of the rebels as "armed gangs" or foreign-backed "terrorists".

'Certainty' on weapons

The EU agreed the arms embargo in April 2011.

Both the UK and France now want it lifted, and have hinted that they could take unilateral action to help the rebels if EU leaders continue to support the embargo.

In a news conference, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said: "If we want to take individual action, [and] we think that is in our national interest, of course we are free to do so."

Mr Hollande later said he accepted that before any weapons could be delivered, the opposition must give "all necessary guarantees".

"It's because we have been given those [guarantees] that we can envisage the lifting of the embargo. We have the certainty on the use of these weapons," he said.

Both leaders insisted they were committed to finding a political solution, but said the world could not stand by and watch while massacres took place.

However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had not reached a definitive position on the issue.

"The fact that two [countries] have changed their position is not enough for 25 others to follow suit," she said.

EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the arms embargo again in Dublin on 22-23 March.

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Assad says he will die in Syria. Right now I guess he's feeling strong, still there after 2 years unlike some Middle East rulers ”

End Quote

The UK has indicated that it might veto a forthcoming vote, due in May, to extend the embargo beyond its 1 June deadline.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels says the French and British largely share the view that Russia and Iran are arming government forces, so providing weapons to the opposition is the only way to put pressure on the Assad regime.

However, our correspondent says Germany, Austria and Sweden are among the EU states believed to be reluctant to lift the embargo.

And the UN's top humanitarian official Valerie Amos said the move could make the job of aid agencies more difficult.

Long stalemate

To mark Syria's anniversary, the International Committee of the Red Cross urged world leaders to put pressure on both sides to stop attacks on civilians.

"It is deplorable that high numbers of civilian casualties are now a daily occurrence," said Robert Mardini, who heads ICRC operations in the Middle East.

Syria: Who's arming who?

Government forces

  • Russia provided some 78% of Syria's arms in 2007-11; continues to supply weaponry and ammunition
  • Iran provides strategic consultation, intelligence and weapons, according to Israel
  • Iran and Hezbollah reportedly supplied paramilitary force made up of Shia and Alawite Syrians, known as Jaysh al-Shaab
  • Belarus firm accused by US of supplying Syrian military

Rebel groups

  • Saudi Arabia and Qatar reported to supply money and small arms via third parties from mid-2012
  • US says it provides "non-lethal" support but not weapons

"These ongoing violations of international humanitarian law and of basic humanitarian principles by all sides must stop."

The unrest began on 15 March 2011 with nationwide protests following arrests in the southern city of Deraa.

Rebels now control large sections of Syria, but the conflict has appeared to be largely in stalemate for months.

A number of vigils have already been held around the world to mark the second anniversary of the conflict, including in the South Korean capital, Seoul, and in Amman in Jordan, where children gathered in front of the Citadel for an event organised by Save the Children.

Meanwhile there is concern at the UN that Lebanon is becoming more entangled in the Syrian conflict, with a UN Security Council statement underscoring its concern about cross-border attacks and weapons trafficking.

Observers believe that Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group is increasing its support for the Syrian government.

 

More on This Story

Syria conflict

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  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 729.

    Just look at you-tube to know it's a terrorist group they are at war with in Syria the badly informed just go with the propaganda an they are American trained double agent's called AL-Qaeda, with american training jacket's on! it's unbelievable what you can find when you look!! I'd be surprised if they are real or just made by the U.S.A phony war on terror make believed by the media!

  • Comment number 728.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 727.

    The govt is pushing this because Al-Assad is a friend of Iran. The Americans signature is obvious here. To arm the rebels is just ensuring another non-secular, fundamentalist Islamist state will emerge. Egypt is failing. Tunisia is failing and Libya is on the edge of failing. The "arab spring" is really the "Islamic insider-jihad". Soon, all secular minded arab states will be history. Bad news.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 726.

    its easy to sit on the outside and say what should be and shouldn't be done. if the syrians want a change in power they should have that right. i think they should be able to ask for help. people agree with russia and china and say we should stay out of the conflict, but they are not staying out of it at all. i don't think we should give weapons to anyone, but offer help in other ways

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 725.

    In the words of Forrest Gump: "Stupid is as stupid does".

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 724.

    Don't give them weapon's. really the terrorism started this an it'snot the leader of Syria's fault the west just wanted him removed an I somehow don't think he's evil. the west are just pulling strings. which should stop an just let them sort it out every time Europe or America get involved it just get's worse.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 723.

    The rebels have given guarantees that the weapons wont fall into the wrong hands. Right..... Didn't someone once make guarantees about Czechoslovakia and Poland being safe? Our politicians nodded their heads and smiled then too. Mugs, the lot of them, this has disaster written all over it.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 722.

    If only people worldwide would stop programming their offspring with belief systems that result in blodshed... The things humans could do if we all worked together creatively... May happen one day I guess, if we can just get past all the infantile destroy destroy caveman mentality.

  • Comment number 721.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 720.

    I live in the US & the US is tired of conflict, but Syrians have a right to fight 4 freedom. why do some think it's bad to want what a lot of us already have? the only reason this conflict has lasted so long is because russia and china are protecting a dictator 4 profit. it is possible that if we supply weapons to syria they might be used against innocent people. but freedom is should be 4 all

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 719.

    You have to conclude that our leaders want to Islamify the Middle East (and I mean the most militant Salafism).

    This means persecuting, expelling and slaughtering Shias, Christians and other minorities; compromising national sovereignty; vandalizing cultural heritage and, for the average citizen, a diet of car bombs and suicide attacks.

    Is this to prepare the ground for a new "War on Terror"?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 718.

    Funny how we were fighting a war on terrorism to stop the Islamists and now we're supplying them weapons to expand their Wahabi/Salafi conquest in Syria. Doesn't make sense to me?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 717.

    A haa 2 moor contenders for mass merderer of the centery Cameron and Hollande, They wont beet the score of the last 2 Bush and Blair they made over 1 mill. What happened to the ICC it is totally ineffective, These people above and beyond any laws they'v got very sick minds.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 716.

    Rolf @ 710:

    You shouldn’t confuse limited political dissent with a civil uprising in which tens of thousands of ordinary, normally non-violent civilians take up arms against a violent dictatorship. To do that takes enormous courage, and massive provocation. (One of the things I learned along the way!)

    AHDIDUMS: I am not 92, but nor am I of the fantasy Nintendo/Play Station generation.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 715.

    With Russia, Iran, Hezbollah & a few African countries sending weapons to bolster al-Assad's desire to kill every non-supporter, countries giving non-lethal support know it's now not enough. When government snipers kill children for sport, when Russia is sending rockets, munitions & personnel into Syria to kill it's citizens, the rest of the world has an obligation to help those dying people live!

  • Comment number 714.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 713.

    Good to see many ordinary people opposed to the UK & French governments in wanting to increase arms supplies to the opposition in Syria. There is plenty of evidence to suggest UK collusion with militant Islam over the years and good reason to believe it goes on now inside Syria. Given the central role of Saudi/Wahabhis in terrorism, our friendship with them makes a mockery of opposition to Assad.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 712.

    AHDIDUMS @708: “No you haven't.”

    Let me list them for you in chronological order:

    N. Ireland, Musandam, Dhofar, S. Yemen, Iraqi Kurdistan, Eritrea, Western Sahara, Rhodesia, Afghanistan, Angola, Philippines.

    I think that is 11.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 711.

    Chaos in the world is good. Look at Africa: those countries where the chaos stopped (almost) are becoming strong and will gobble up the west shortly, with China's help. The west needs a restless Middle-East

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 710.

    700. SASmule - So you don't think their have been any attempted uprisings in any of the following countries Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, North Korea! I would say you were very wrong on that.

    You may well have been involved in 11 conflicts, but I wonder how much good all that has really done! Obviously not dampened your faith in supplying weapons to groups.

 

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