Syria: Arming rebels risks spreading conflict

Ministers have been warned that any move towards arming Syrian rebels could result in the conflict spilling over into neighbouring countries in the Middle East.

The UK and France made a joint pitch at a European Union summit in Brussels last week, insisting the opposition could need “lethal” military support currently outlawed by the EU’s own sanctions against the regime of dictator Bashar Assad.

But MPs yesterday hit out at the initiative by David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, with predictions it could result in a “proxy war” between rebels backed by the UK and France and Assad’s forces supported by Russia.

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Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire, said: “The bottom line is Assad has to go.”

He told MPs the EU had to be able to “respond to the pace of events” and the current arms embargo would be reviewed ahead of its May deadline.

But shadow Europe minister Emma Reynolds said: “Once an arms embargo has been lifted it is close to impossible to guarantee whose hands weapons may end up in, which has dangers both for now and after the conflict.”