France pushing for talks on arming Syrian rebels
PARIS — FRANCE will discuss supplying arms to Syrian opposition forces with its European partners in the coming weeks now that an opposition coalition has been established, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday.
France is wary of militarising the 20-month-old conflict, but is also reluctant to leave areas under opposition control unprotected against bomb attacks, Mr Fabius told RTL radio.
"At the moment there is an embargo on arms, so no weapons are being delivered from Europe. The question will undoubtedly be raised for defensive arms but it’s something we can only do in co-ordination with the rest of Europe."
He said Paris was talking to Moscow and UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi over a solution, as it waited for the Syrian coalition to form a provisional government in the weeks ahead that could open the door to supplying arms. "We want to avoid going towards militarisation. On the other hand, we must prevent liberated zones from being destroyed. We must find a fair balance," he said.
A senior European Union official said ahead of a meeting on Monday of the bloc’s foreign and defence ministers that there had to be unanimity among member states for changes in sanctions to be applied. "No such proposition will be examined yet. We are at the beginning of the process," he said, as there were huge practical difficulties in selectively lifting the arms embargo.
Paris broke ranks with its western allies on Tuesday by officially recognising Syria’s new opposition coalition and said it would look at arming rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad’s forces once a provisional government is formed. France has so far ruled out sending weapons, concerned they could get into the hands of radical Islamists.
Syria blames Saudi Arabia and Qatar for arming the opposition.
French President Francois Hollande will meet leaders of the new opposition coalition in Paris on Saturday, including its chief, Mouaz Alkhatib, and George Sabra, head of the Syrian National Council, which is now a minority player in the wider coalition. Turkey on Thursday joined France in recognising the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
France has been one of the harshest critics of Mr Assad, who has vowed to fight to the death in a conflict that has killed about 38,000 people and risks sucking in other countries. Mr Assad’s troops on Thursday launched air and ground assaults on restive suburban areas of the capital Damascus, killing at least five people, said opposition activists.
After rocket fire into Israel at the weekend and a stern warning from Jerusalem of retaliatory action, a stray bullet fired from Syria struck near an Israeli army outpost in the occupied Golan Heights on Thursday, causing no injuries or damage, a military spokeswoman said.