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EU fails to find common ground on arming Syrian rebels


European Union leaders meeting in Brussels have rejected a French push to lift the bloc’s arms embargo to allow weapons supplies to be shipped to Syrian rebels. EU foreign ministers are to revisit the issue next week.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the EU leaders who expressed reservations about the idea, telling reporters in Brussels on Friday that just because two countries - Britain and France - wanted it, didn't mean the other 25 would comply.

"This will not be the case," the chancellor said.

Merkel also warned that if EU countries began shipping arms to Syrian rebels, friends of President Bashar al-Assad could react in a similar manner.

"Others have, with, in my view, very good reasons ... pointed to the fact that Iran and also Russia are only waiting for a signal to export arms (and) that one must also be aware of the fragile situation in Lebanon and what that means for the arming of Hezbollah," Merkel said.

However, the issue is not completely off the table.

"I haven't made up my mind yet", she said. "It is an extremely difficult situation, it must be considered very, very carefully."

With all of the leaders apparently eager to avoid a split over the issue, European Council President Herman van Rompuy said they had instructed their foreign ministers to discuss it "as a matter of priority" at two-day meeting in Dublin next week.

Prior to the two-day summit, which was to wrap up on Friday, French President Francois Hollande, supported by British Prime Minister David Cameron surprised many by lobbying hard for the EU to lift the embargo. Just days earlier, the idea hadn't even come up at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a radio station that as a sovereign country, France was would be within it rights to go it alone in arming Syrian rebels.

"We cannot accept this current imbalance, with on one side Iran and Russia who supply arms to Bashar al-Assad and, on the other, the members of the resistance, who cannot defend themselves," Fabius said.

In Brussels on Friday, Prime Minister Cameron also asserted his government's right "to take individual action," if it was in Britain's “national interest.”

President Hollande, though, indicated that he much preferred to get the entire EU on on board.

"I will do everything so that at the end of May at the very latest ... a common solution is adopted by the Union," Hollande said.

pfd/ rc(Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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