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EU renews Syria arms embargo despite criticism
February 20, 2013, 12:21 am

Smoke rises from a building struck by artillery in north Damascus [Xinhua]

Smoke rises from a building struck by artillery in north Damascus [Xinhua]

The European Union has renewed for three months an arms embargo on Syria, but also ignored pleas by opposition forces to supply them with weapons in their two-year civil war to oust President Bashar Al Assad.

The EU, however, did agree to consider future amendments that could see some type of assistance provided to opposition groups.

For some countries, the EU’s decision was disappointing.

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said earlier in the week that he had hoped the decision would have allowed for measurable efforts to provide materiel to the opposition groups.

“There is a very wide range of views on this among the nations of the European Union,” Hague said. “We would have gone further than this; many nations would have made no amendments at all. So this is a compromise.”

“It’s important because it shows that we can change the arms embargo, and the worse the situation becomes, the more we can change it,” Hague said. “It will be reviewed again in three months. It’s established an extremely important precedent.”

The EU accepted Britain’s request for “greater non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians”.

Qatar was more pronounced in its rejection of the EU decision.

Hamed bin Jassim Al Thani, prime minister and foreign minister, said such measures would only prolong the civil war.

“I am astonished at this decision,” Bin Jassim said. “The rebels only want to be able to defend themselves. At the present time this is the wrong decision. It will only prolong the crisis.”

Qatar has been a staunch supporter of the opposition groups, supplying funds and weapons from the very beginning.

But there are fears in the West that Islamic extremists such as Al Qaeda in Iraq have infiltrated the ranks of the armed opposition groups and have been steering a sectarian war agenda.

And a recent UN report on War Crimes faulted both government and opposition forces for a number of atrocities committed against the civilian population, including the desecration of sites holy to the Shia and Christian minorities.

In the meantime, permanent Security Council member China is continuing to urge the Damascus government and the armed opposition to immediately begin a political dialogue, adding that it will be open to any suggestions from both parties to resolve the crisis.

“China holds an objective and justified position on Syrian issues and is positive about and open to any solution widely accepted by Syrian parties,” said Yang Jiechi, the Chinese foreign minister last week after separately meeting Syrian officials and senior members of the opposition groups..

He said the civil war had reached a “crucial stage”.

China is backing the Geneva Communique, the June 30 resolution reached by the Syria Action Group – comprising Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, Kofi Annan, former Arab League envoy and Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister.

The communiqué called on both sides in Syria to immediately halt the violence, open negotiations, and form a transitional governing body.

But UN-Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi earlier warned that prolonged fighting in Syria would leave the country lawless and ruled by armed militia and ‘warlords’.

“People are talking about a divided Syria being split into a number of small states like Yugoslavia,” Lakhdar Brahimi told The New York Times. “This is not what is going to happen. What will happen is Somalization – warlords.”

Inspired by Arab uprisings elsewhere, Syrians engaged in peaceful protests in March 2011, calling on the government of President Bashar Assad to enact reforms and begin democratization.

However, this quickly turned into an armed rebellion following a government crackdown on protesters in some Syrian cities. The UN estimates that at least 70,000 people have been killed in the escalating conflict.

Source: Agencies