French call for EU to lift arms embargo in defence of Syrian rebels

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FRANCE has raised the prospect of providing Syrian rebels with “defensive weapons” and is set to ask the European Union to lift its arms embargo.

Foreign minister Laurent Fabius claimed the embargo was preventing rebels defending themselves in a civil war against president Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which began with protests in March 2011 and has claimed the lives of more than 36,000 Syrians so far.

The fighting and floods of refugees seeking safety have also spilled over into several of Syria’s neighbours, including Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

Mr Fabius told RTL radio: “We must not militarise the conflict … but it’s obviously unacceptable that there are liberated zones and they’re bombed [by Assad’s regime]. We have to find a good balance.”

“The question of defensive arms will be raised,” he added, without providing details about such arms. “This cannot be done without co-ordination between Europeans.”

Among western nations, France has been at the forefront of the struggle, and on Tuesday quickly recognised a new opposition coalition formed on Sunday as the Syrian people’s sole representative. It was the first western nation to do so.

France has been funnelling aid, some through cloak-and-dagger means, to Syrian rebels, but expects to turn that over to the new coalition.