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 469.

    Dear Mr Hollande,

    We absolutely pinky promise that although we are going to give every man a french gun, we know every single on of them personally and can guarantee that after the conflict they will freely give us back the expensive weaponry and will not claim that it is broken in order to use it for their own genosidic purposes

    Lots of Love,
    Unkown Syrian Rebels

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    #436 The man's an idiot. He cannot be confident weapons won't fall into the wrong hands. He can only assert it. I guess he was confident that no French citizen would leave the country if he/she were taxed at 75%

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    so austria has 30 solders in golan heights and i am with them when they say they want to keep them safe, but would they refuse the arms if 70K of austirans were killed by Assad ? have Austria remove its people and replace by someone else.
    How many Serians have to loose thier lives before its ok for EU to arm them.
    I think the world has failed the syrians in all respect

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    This Syrian stalemate has killed over 60,000 people.
    It is now clear that this war will end like most wars, when one side wins.
    The embargo is only helping Assad and his murderous coherts. The world is unwilling to enforce a peace so it should now get out of the way and let the sides fight it out. Only then will the killing end.
    It is the right time to lift the arms embargo on Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    @453 "UK, France, USA all rose in rebellion. Why not Syria?"

    A fair point. I think the general dislike of these conflicts, comes from the fact that we left our civil wars and rebellions behind generations ago and as our nations 'grew up' so to speak. Whereas the Islamic countries are still at it, and are regarded as stupid/archaic. (Not my generalization on them, just an observation of us)

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    358 Khuli "So the moral of the story is invasion is better than help, if you don't want extremist governments?"

    No, the moral of the story is not to support islamic radicals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    How the hell can Hollande say that he is confident that weapons provided won't fall into the wrong hands?

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    Help the refugees, do not arm anyone, it will come back and bite us in the ass as always.

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    It is evident the so-called rebels are a mish mash of various interests with a common goal now but will lose cohesion if they oust Assad. Many are Al Qaeda linked and have no soft spot for the west. They will not thank us if they win, they will not be grateful or side with us later. And western leaders who think this will curry favour with them are deluded. We should stay out of this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    Assad has been deliberately targeting civilians with weapons like heavy artillery, cluster bombs and barrel bombs for two years now. His regime was based on secret police and torture before the war started!. The vast majority of Syrians are not extremists. People need to decide which side they are on. We need to give them weapons to get rid of Assad. This is the only way the war can be over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    Doew Syria pocess WMD's, or has it expansionist policies like other Western-backed M.E. states?

    Once another western-backed puppet-leader is instilled, the WMD's will flow in freely to put pressure on Iran directly, and Moscow/Beijing indirectly. Syria will become another proxy.

    This is a war of geopolitics. Our government(s) think we are stupid.

    Human rights? Yeah of course righteous ones..

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    Arming rebels is dangerous as you don't know who will gain control of them.
    It also makes the conflict worse and does not improve the humanitarian situation.
    If you are going to intervene do it properly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    In the name of God do not become involved in the bloodshed of the Syrian uprising.
    Can the British government not learn from our history of making wrong decisions involving the death of innocents.
    There are occasions when I am ashamed to be British and all because of self opinionated politicians

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    I see what you mean 429 Molestrangler. The government having to choose between paying money to jobseekers who won their case in the courts and paying for arms for terrorists, choose the terrorists.

    I agree, does seem strange that the BBC have not reported this rather important DWP ruling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    Warning...while we look outwards towards the East, the enemy may lay within.

    Our politicians should learn ....honor thyself before another. Respect is often gained this way and anything else is seen as a weakness. Maybe not today, but down the road...?

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    @ Jonathon Marcus, BBC
    "..the conflict is developing into a bloody stalemate. Neither side can currently win and the longer the fighting goes on, the worse the humanitarian catastrophe and... conflict spilling over into a regional war."


    If this was truly the problem, then the simplest solution would be to stop aiding the rebels, but that appears not to be on the table. Why not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    The Syrians are Islamists and they are fighting a war, but to simply use this to dismiss them all and/or their cause as "extremist" seems to belie a western Islami-phobic prejudice.

    Repressed people have the right to free themselves, no matter their religion or nationality. UK, France, USA all rose in rebellion. Why not Syria? Why not support them?

    Must we assume every Islamist is set on evil?

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    What sort of precedent does it set when two permanent members of the UN Security Council (UK and France), whose job it is to uphold international law, suddenly decide to break international (and European) law by spending money they don't have on weapons for militia in Syria?
    The Syrian 'rebels' have no legitimacy as they have become nothing more than foreign backed mercenaries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.


    Suez was a 100% military success, The americans pulled the plug


    Yes. The US pulled the plug and that was the end of any colonial aspirations we had left. We realised after that that we could not project our influence overseas in the way we previously did.

    Our recent foreign forays betray that we have forgotten the lesson of Suez.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    Would these be the same rebels who recently kidnapped UN peacekeepers?

    Nice "friends" we're choosing these days .. actually, scrap that .. we've always chosen these types of "friends" such as Bin Laden during the 80's.

    That turned out well didn't it?

    Well, to the maniacs who think they run things, it probably went exactly to plan ..........


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