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.


More on This Story

Syria conflict


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  • Comment number 569.

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

  • Comment number 568.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 567.

    So when Libya was arming the IRA to help them fight against the UK government, that was 'supplying terrorists' - yet when we give weapons to Syrian rebels fighting their government, we're 'arming freedom fighters?'
    This is all just word play - ultimately, it is foreign governments giving weapons to bad guys, and more civilians will pay with their lives. No doubt UK soldiers will too in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 566.

    Why oh why oh why does anyone think that throwing more weapons at this situation will make things better. It is so obvious what will happen to these weapons they will be used to spread the rebels idea of democracy to other countries in the region. Just use common sense don't arm them and keep well out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 565.

    France is trying to justify the crime of breaking an Arms embargo by the very Nations which drafted it:US,UK,France,which makes them eligible for Prosecution.It was NATO supplied Weapons to Libyan Rebels which were used in Mali,now they are doing same in Syria.All factualises notion that those Nations believe their Citizens have Worth,while Poorer Natnls are Expendable to their Fgn Plcy agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 564.

    @548 Gremlin657 '....mind your own business.'
    Interesting...wouldn't be HYS if we all felt that way. Don't be so rude. I have always wanted to study another language...just need a great reason for doing so. For me/others expense would be involved etc.

    You are probably right would be a good reason. They are involved in a lot of trade!!!??? :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    Smells like regime change to me Mr Cameron. You sneaky little ripper.
    Think we will have our own regime change in the UK on the 7th May 2015 when you lose the general election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    Why are we wanting to give Guns to rebels,madness .The clue is in the name.It will not stop people killing each other.
    I hate all this helping at arms length look at all the other helping hands we have given ,one cock up after another....
    400.000 barrels of oil a day...............Ever little helps

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    @ 554 Gremlin,
    My point is there is no collaboration of regimes with Russia and china to destroy the west. China would lose its markets; the Russians have been fighting Islamism on their borders for 40 years. Syria was feted by the west. Meerkat is right, this whole conflict is a sectarian war, with us backing the sunnis.It is not the cold war, its about who rules.

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    Our national interest here is to stop the collaboration and spread of dangerous regimes who would wilfully destroy the west via the help of Russia and China. It seems most of the comments on here would like to see that happen.

    V.I. Lenin called such Western fellow travellers "useful idiots".

    And Lenin was most certainly not an idiot. But a brilliant user of idiots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    544 Gremlin657..

    There is no oil in Syria. There is gas though.


    Which isn`t the point...Politics / influence in the Middle East is always very entangled, There is a real battle going on for influence and terriotory..with Iraq turning Shia, Saudi is turning Syria`s Sunni free has legs..

    Further..US is going after Iran..proxy war

    Endless energy war

    Russia ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    Whats happening here on earth. I guess the existence of new pope isn't that influential in the battle of pride and territory.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    Just let them all come to the UK.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    75 plane loads of Weapons have already been shipped from Croatia to Jordan,then distributed to Mercenaries & Radical Jihadists in Syria,compliments of US,UK & France primarily,financed by Saudis.It is specifically to curb the arrogance which old Colonists cling to,that they have a right to kill & maim then go home and pretend they did something great,which compel India to take Italy to account.

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    Well of course France are keen on the arms dealing, they if anything have less ethics than GB. Sell anything to anybody anywhere, exploit resources in dodgy regimes hell they even sold Exocets to hammer us with?
    We are not much better but the warning signs were there when Hague was not so vague last month.
    Petrol is not the best way to put out a fire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    @547 Riff77.
    Did i mention any nationalities? In the end it's irrelevant as Islamists want one nation with their capital as wait for it (as we're quizzing)........Damascus, which is where? a) Iran, b) Saudi, c) Syria
    What is your point anyway?
    PS Water is the next biggie. FACT as powermeerkat said so!

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    There is something very dark about the UK's involvement in this civil war.

    Wonder why David Cameron visited Saudi Arabia in January ?

    Make no mistake we are being put up as proxies of Saudi Arabia to fight their war. This is Saudi Arabia's sectarian war.

    All the talk about Assad killing children is propaganda, this is nothing compared to the slaughter if the rebels win

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    "as always superpowers lurking in the shadows, eyeing the oil."

    Russia has plenty of oil, Iran has plenty of oil, Saudi Arabia has plenty of oil, US has plenty of oil.

    So it's clearly not about oil. But about whether Arabs (Sunnis) or Persians (Shiites) would control the Middle East.

    P.S. The next major conflict in the ME is not going to be about oil but about WATER!

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    Perhaps as usual France will just ignore EU rules as and when it suits them.

    Not that the EU is any body to have any opinion on such matters, who do they think they are!

    There are no civilians in a civil war, fight to the death till one side wins. We should have no part of it at all. Certainly not backing one side, rebels/terrorists. We could sell arms equally to whoever can pay though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    I feel extremely sorry for these people - but why are we butting in ?

    We have no idea HOW THEY THINK nor WHAT THEY BELIEVE IN.

    Maybe we (US and French) governments should get their own house in order first


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