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.


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 ”

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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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    It's a travesty that the French are calling for the arms embargo on the rebels to be lifted since it was they, as the colonial power, who were responsible for the Alouite ascendency in the first place, using them as militia against the majority Sunnis. When will these neo-imperialist ex-colonial powers ever realise the damage they have done and continue to do. I include the British. Remember Iraq

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    tinytim @ 47 said: "We may end up arming people that we don't like, but are we prepared to step back and let whole towns & cities be exterminated.."

    So what are these terrorists you want to arm going to do with these weapons - apart from flogging them to extremist groups?

    They have plenty of weapons already, or shall we give them a battleship?

    They've massacred too many Syrians already.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Wu Shu
    Tel Aviv pulls the strings of Cameron and Hague.


    Yeah, I'm sure Israel are delighted about their new neighbours in Egypt, the free flow of arms from 'liberated' Libya to Gaza and the beheaders currently on their border with the Golan.

    Of course to racists, Jews will always be to blame no matter which side does what.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    When it comes to supplying arms, the Soviets...oops, I mean the Russian Federation...have it all sewn-up already, no contest! All Assad's forces need is an endless supply of Kalashnikovs and RPGs. The Russians produce them cheaply and in abundance...unlike more sophisticated, expensive, but ultimately less effective western weapons! The "freedom fighters" would sooner have the question!

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    Well I'm sure that will make everything lovely again.

    Of course history demonstrates that the best way to stop a violent conflict and save lives is to give weapons to angry people with little/no training or experienced leadership.

    I think Cameron has spend too much time around Americans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    I wonder why now? Thw West has stood by for 2 years and done nothing. The Syrian government has murdered many thousands of its own innocent citizens. Surely it would be best to get medical supplies to Syria, drugs, water and food to its peoples rather than inflame a war that the jihadists will escalate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    "a more prodigious treason", said Cromwell, "than any that had been perfected before; because the former quarrel was that Englishmen might rule over one another; this to vassalise us to a foreign nation."

    Describing King Charles attempts to involve foreign nations in the English civil war...

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    When our government first started helping the "rebels" they made very sure to point out that they were only supplying non-lethal aid, such as communications & transport.
    Now, it seems they are ok with supplying lethal aid. Why were they so insistant beforehand that they weren't giving guns? Why do they no longer have a problem with it? Seems an awfully quick change of heart.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    We need to be careful what we do here. If Syria is going to turn into another Iran; it will be better to let them sicken themselves of war to such an extent they will learn too live in peace for once in their 7000 year history. Could peace ever happen with Islamic extremists in charge - I doubt that very much. Fanatics are what they are which has been a never ending problem across the whole world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Not so strange that this is occurring just a week or so after the USA foreign secretary stuck the big cigar into Haigs mouth & invoked the special relationship.

    Where the USA tell us what they want us to do & we lap it up.

    Has the USA done some kind of deal with Al Queda?

    What about the British people Dave, that's who you should be looking after

    Not the USA & Australian moguls

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    So Cameron and Hague sell arms to the brutal regimes of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia who oppress their own people, and then talk about arming the opposition Islamists in Syria.

    You couldn't make the hypocrisy up!

    The end game is, of course, Iran. Tel Aviv pulls the strings of Cameron and Hague.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Supplying Arms to, well, who knows who, is akin to pouring petrol on flames; it will simply add to the violence and enable facilitate killings. Have we learned nothing at all about these situations? Who now holds the weapons supplied into Libya for example? No one knows, it is out of control; you cannot control these situations. How did we feel when the IRA were supported with US weapons?

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    I really hope that Cameron and his chums can sleep at night, knowing they are helping to create Islamic states where women and girls are murdered for speaking out, where anyone with a thought in their head is executed as a heretic...

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.


    Massive Gas & Oil potential

    Supplying arms to speed up the destruction of a country so Dave's rich mates can swan in and take over on the premise of creating a democratic state they can trade freely with !

    Stinks !

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Arming the Syrian opposition would not be to "prevent deaths", it would be to enable regime change - and, the West hopes, a new regime that would source it's military hardware from Western sources. This is a war for money. As others have said, a proxy war to facilitate the future sale of arms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    The former Cold War rivals are simply fighting a war by proxy, just like they did during the Yom Kippur War. The region is a veritable tinder-box. Play with fire and someone will inevitably get burned. Please take note Scameron and co!

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    4 Minutes ago

    We must fight fascism wherever it appears and supporting opposition forces is our duty

    An attitude straight from the dark ages. The modern world requires modern solutions, creative thinking. Unfortunately, political minds have not evolved with the times, they are determined to have history run in a never ending loop - as your attitude seems to show.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Why do we still delude ourselves that Syrian opposition are a legitimate group of peace loving democrats who deserve our support. Sadly, they are a disorganised group of factions and fanatics who have started a civil war against their own government. We have no reason to beleive that they would be any better than Assad. Stop now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.


    What by supplying weapons to terrorists no wait sorry rebels who have been killing civilians?

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    This is about pro Islamist liberals
    No it really isn't. There can't be liberals who support Sharia law the 2 things are opposites, like a vegan carnivore

    This is about undermining Iran's allies on behalf of the Americal pro-Israel lobby on one side and the Sunni Saudis who want to dominate the region on the other who have strangely allied against the Shia


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