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 369.

    So people are in favour of arming Islamists, Make no bones about it that's what they are. Calls for the Govnt to arm what I can only see is the nearest thing to Nazi today. If you doubt that look at their aims. a religious state where all others not of that religion are untermensch with draconian laws to punish anyone who fails to follow and the destruction of all jews.. !! not in my name..thanks

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    If human suffering is the motive for this, why are we not doing more in Zimbabwe etc? This can only go badly, it always does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    We all know it is not enough but... we the (normal) people are so sorry and ashamed for what our government are doing to help the terrorists persecute innocent Syrian people in our name using ‘our’ tax payer’s money! May your God bless you and may the many faceless psychopathic perpetrators of this crime face a sweet justice for their cowardly crimes against humanity!

  • Comment number 366.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    Maybe I am naive, but what exactly does Russia gain from supporting Syria? Whilst it must be fun to wind up UK/FR/GR surely they can play hardball with the gas supplies to do that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    Britain and France have been a malevolent presence in Syria since the turn of the turn of the 20th Century. Why can't they just stay out!

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    Good to see UK and France for making a correct decision at last by taking initiative to stop genocide being committed by Assad and his dogs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    Why are we even thinking about getting involved in this? Fair enough help those who have fled Syria - give them water, blankets and whatever but we are just stupid to do anything internally in Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    Why not outsource the supply of military weapon sales in the same way as the rest of the UK's Armed Forces are slowly being outsourced? Any weapons would only be used on the 'bad' people anyway. Plus, that way, you distance yourself from the mayhem and destruction you cause and the subsequent shambolic regime you help to install, while all the time hiding behind a screen of plausible deniability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    People really want to arm yet another bunch of Islamic fundamentalists? The French and UK governments are totally barmy. We need to leave well alone, not get involved. If the Islamic fundamentalists win we are in trouble. I'd favour giving Assad the support he needs to bring the whole thing to a speedy conclusion even though he is not a nice guy - better him than the fundamentalists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    301.The Info Warrior
    I'm not a lawyer. A lawyer by the name of Chris Coverdale believes that if we knowingly provide funds to support a war of aggression we are guilty of the crime of 'conduct ancillary to genocide'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    295.Latitude Infinity

    No, I chose countries with this common thread-- civil wars and open rebellions which were abetted by western arms, logistics, and advisors, and which resulted in extreme islamist regimes taking over.

    Iraq was an invasion.
    So the moral of the story is invasion is better than help, if you don't want extremist governments?

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    We are being used by the Saudis & Americans

    The Saudis want regime change for sectarian reasons, the Americans want regime change in a cold war ousting of a power friendly to Russia

    This is not our war, this has nothing to do with us.

    We are being bullied by the US & Saudi Arabia. If the Saudis want regime change let them use their own Arab soldiers against other Arabs. They will not do this

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    Wish someone would give me a gun so I could start a revolution and overthrow the useless and heartless co-alliance which governs the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    I think this is a very bad idea and France and the UK need to keep out of this conflict, how can you arm a Syrian group when there are elements of Radicals in the Syrian opposition hell bent on destroying Western democracy, these in turn would turn the guns we gave them onto our selves, the risk is far to great

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    340. Pricklyghost
    Well I see your point but if Russia shut their gas supply to the EU down then I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be considered too important when compared to some of our near neighbours & in that event gas in the EU would stay just there & little if any would be coming here
    Fortunately Norway & Quatar aren't EU. We import about 50% of our gas, 50% North Sea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    Pouring petrol onto a fire. If the EU send arms to Syria then surely that gives Russia and China the moral right to openly send arms to wherever they choose - Iran for example. What the UN should be doing is their utmost to stop weapons reaching all sides.

    And where is the Arab League? They sit back doing nothing, counting their oil dollars while we pour money into another middle east conflict.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    Ahhh wonderful, lets put more arms in the hands of extremists!

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    Regardless of who wins there will be even more bloodshed and atrocities due to the revenge attacks - at the moment both are fighting for their lives because they know that it's gone too far. The death toll is going to rocket.

    Rather than supplying weapons perhaps preparations should be made to defend people post-war. The hatred is going to continue for a long, long time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    @342. ChrisA

    Al-Qaeda backed forces were armed and helped the 'rebels' kill and murder innocents in Libya too you know. Libya was more organised because NATO helped enormously.

    Providing any Arms to either-side is a BIG mistake. Period.


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