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UK considers giving arms to Syrian rebels


The UK wants to give Syrian rebels weapons if the move would end the nearly two-year civil war, Britain's prime minister has said. The warning came shortly after EU members failed to agree on a solution to the crisis.

When asked by a parliamentary committee in London whether the UK would sidestep an EU arms embargo on Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron said it would. However, such a defiant decision would only occur if EU members unanimously agreed to renew the sanctions against both sides fighting in the Syrian civil war.

"I hope that we can persuade our European partners, if and when a further change becomes necessary," Cameron told the parliamentary committee.

If the UK can't persuade EU leaders to veto the embargo in about three months, "then it's not out of the question we might have to do things in our own way," Cameron. "It's possible."

"We are still an independent country, we can have an independent foreign policy," he added.

EU member states are scheduled to vote on a renewal of the embargo every three months which bans sales to both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and Syrian opposition fighters. During the last round of voting, the UK managed to convince the 27-member bloc to ease restrictions, allowing the Syrian opposition to receive non-lethal equipment, such as armor and armed vehicles.

Despite the small victory for allies of the forces fighting to oust President al-Assad, reports from the region depict a situation that shows no sign of improving.

The United Nations special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said earlier this week that a diplomatic solution was the only path toward restoring political stability in Syria. Military intervention would lead to a situation "similar or even worse than Somalia."

But Western leaders remain divided over how to protect Syrians and the region, with some, such as the UK, becoming eager to act quickly.

Over 70,000 people have perished in the fighting that began nearly two years ago between government forces and anti-Assad groups, according to the UN. Within Syria, at least 2 million people have been displaced, plus an additional 1 million who have fled to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Referring to the possibility of defying EU policy, Cameron said that the UK planned to support the joint effort for as long as possible.

"I hope we don't have to break from a collaborative approach across the EU," Cameron said.

"I was just making a point that if we thought that was the right thing to do, we would do it."

On Monday, EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss a solution to the Syrian crisis, but failed to reach an agreement. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius urged leaders to supply the opposition, which was greatly outpowered by al-Assad's military. In contrast, Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, argued that sending more weapons would do little to end the bloodshed.

kms/hc (AFP, Reuters)

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