France has joined Britain in voicing its willingness to supply weapons to Syria’s rebels if it cannot convince its European partners to lift an arms embargo as the conflict enters its third year.
“Our goal is to convince our partners at the end of May, and if possible before.... If by chance there is a blockage by one or two countries, then France will take its responsibilities,” President Francois Hollande said yesterday after talks on the first day of a European Union summit in Brussels.
“Political solutions have now failed (in Syria), despite every pressure,” Hollande said, on the eve of Friday’s second anniversary of the start of the bloody conflict between the Syrian regime and the rebels seeking to topple it.
The United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising erupted in mid-March 2011.
“We must go further because for two years there has been a clear willingness by (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad to use every means to hit at his own people,” he added.
France said earlier that Paris and London were pushing for the EU to drop the arms ban -- a move opposed by some European governments, who fear a flood of weapons into Syria will only escalate the conflict.
Syrian opposition activists have called on London and Paris to provide heavy weaponry to tilt the balance in the two-year uprising.
Assad’s government, like its key foreign ally Russia, said any such arms shipments would be a “flagrant violation” of international law.
The United States may look favourably on the French and British moves to give more aid to Syrian rebel forces, the State Department said Thursday, without explicitly backing armed support.
“We’re obviously not going to get in the middle of their internal discussions, but we certainly want to see as many governments as possible provide appropriate support to the Syrian opposition coalition,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in Washington.
However, Berlin is known to be cool to the idea and on Thursday German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU needed to “proceed very cautiously” on lifting the embargo.
“If our partners in the European Union, in this case Britain and France, have a changed assessment of the situation, then the foreign ministers are of course ready to discuss this subject again,” she said.
“But we have to be careful that the other side will not be provided with even more arms by countries that have another stance on Assad,” Merkel said.