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.

 

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 389.

    Don't know how we get through to this chap Cameron!, he is clearly not listening to the electorate or indeed some in his own party. Shades of Maggie ?
    Best my wife and I can do is sign the e-petition and wish the poster well with it.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 388.

    After the fiascos of Iraq & Afghanistan, I really don't know why Cameron wants to get involved with Syria, we will just end up losing blood & treasure and pleasing nobody, because at the end of the day, both sides are as bad as the other! Did we really solve anything in Libya?

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 387.

    Some people are so naive its scary , if we give weapons to a rebel groups then other countries have the right to give weapons to all "rebel " groups FARC , The IRA , Chechens , the taliban , maoist rebels extremists in Saudi Arabia etc Whether you like Assad or not is irrelevant its an internal civil war and should be left that way.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 386.

    This is another Middle East situation which may not be improved by our intervention. Whilst Iraq may have benefited the USA, it is still an unstable situation for the Iraqis and Afghanistan looks as though it has the potential to end up in the same way. A video from a Russian TV company does make it appear that some of the Syrian rebels have fundamentalist Islamic beliefs. Is this an improvement?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 385.

    379.Peter_Sym
    Just now
    368. gorlestongirl1
    2 MINUTES AGO
    If human suffering is the motive for this, why are we not doing more in Zimbabwe etc?
    ---
    Would you like us to get involved in a war in Zimbabwe? That should half answer the question.

    The second half of the answer is that there's no serious organised opponents to Mugabe to support in the first place.
    ------
    Bahrain?

  • Comment number 384.

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

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 383.

    I'm still not certain that giving weapons to al-Qaeda is a good idea.

  • Comment number 382.

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

  • rate this
    +13

    Comment number 381.

    Francois Hollande said the rebels had given guarantees that weapons would not fall into the wrong hands.

    That has to be the biggest load of rubbish i`ve read in a long time, there is no way anyone can make that kind of guarantee. The last thing we need to be doing when trying to put a fire out is to throw petrol on it. If Assad is toppled don`t think that these terrorists will be any better.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 380.

    There is a huge propaganda push on the British population to support intervention including the BBC.

    But the British public don't support it for many reasons not least the debacle of Iraq.

    I don't even think the government believe in it. There is clearly pressure been put on us by the Americans & the Saudis.

    We are being used !

    Hague & Cameron need to grow some b.....

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 379.

    368. gorlestongirl1
    2 MINUTES AGO
    If human suffering is the motive for this, why are we not doing more in Zimbabwe etc?
    ---
    Would you like us to get involved in a war in Zimbabwe? That should half answer the question.

    The second half of the answer is that there's no serious organised opponents to Mugabe to support in the first place.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 378.

    The UK,USA,and EU pollutions do not care about the "humanitarian" situation in Syria. All they are interested in is that whoever is sitting in power in Damascus will cooperate with the financial sector in Wall street and the City of London.and the major oil companies. This is clear when you see the completely different approach taken to countries such as Saudi Arabia , Bahrain and China.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 377.

    Any weapons sent to Syria now will inevitably be used for the sectarian cleansing of Alowites, Shia's or Sunnis (depending on who wins) once the current civil war is over.

    Hollande is suggesting that the west provide equipment to help in the inevitable massacre of innocents.

  • Comment number 376.

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

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 375.

    France, the world's 3rd largest arms exporter, wants to send guns to Syria - for humanitarian purposes.

    Priceless. The chemical weapons threat rehash a few months ago was embarrassing and derided out of town. Now they're desperately trying to find any alternative justification that might wash with the general public in order to bring down the Syrian Gov and install a new puppet in the region.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 374.

    I suppose useing snipers to kill innocent protesters is O.K.If Russia etc can supply Assad with arms I cannot see what the argument is.Assad is
    quite happy to destroy everything in Syria so long as he stays in power and that includes the people,men,women and children.i have no doubt that those against him are useing whatever weapons they capture from
    Assads mob.

  • Comment number 373.

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

  • rate this
    +20

    Comment number 372.

    It's clear that UK and France wants regime change and want to expand their influences in Syria. Reducing loss of lives is just a poor excuse.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 371.

    349 "It's sickening to hear the BBC headlining the three hateful Muslim terrorists as 'British Men' Just who's side the BBC is on ?" - While I would be the first to agree the BBC pursues an active, shameful and fpatronising policy of appeasement and disinformation regarding the actvities of some Islamic people and groups I think we probably have to admit they can call British citizens "British".

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 370.

    Yep more guns to solve the problem. Just brilliant.

 

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