France's Fabius says Europe must drop Syria arms ban

PARIS Thu Mar 14, 2013 12:08am GMT

France's Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius attends a news conference after a bilateral meeting at San Carlos Palace in Bogota February 25, 2013. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

France's Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius attends a news conference after a bilateral meeting at San Carlos Palace in Bogota February 25, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/John Vizcaino

PARIS (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius kept up his push on Wednesday for Europe to ditch a ban on supplying arms to Syria, saying stepping up help to the opposition was the only way to end the bloody two-year-old crisis.

"We must go further and allow the Syrian people to defend themselves against this bloody regime. It's our duty to help the Coalition, its leaders and the Free Syrian army by all means possible," Fabius wrote in the daily Liberation newspaper.

France and Britain want the European Union to amend an arms embargo on sending arms to Syria which is part of a package of sanctions that rolls over every three months but they face opposition, notably from Germany.

"We must convince our partners, particularly in Europe, that we no longer have any other choice than to lift the embargo on arms to benefit the Coalition," Fabius wrote in the article, timed to mark the conflict reaching two years.

"More than 70,000 dead and a million refugees, the systematic destruction of a country: the second anniversary of the launch of the Syrian revolution is an anniversary of blood and tears," he said.

After weeks of wrangling, Britain has persuaded the EU to agree to relax its embargo to allow non-lethal but quasi-military aid such as body armour and armoured vehicles to be supplied to the Syrian opposition.

But Germany has warned that giving the rebels arms could lead to a proliferation of weapons in the volatile region and spark regional conflagration and a proxy war.

Britain has threatened to break with the embargo altogether, while France has said it will work to resolve the issue in the days ahead. A senior French official told Reuters that anti-aircraft missiles were among those weapons being considered for supply to rebel fighters in Syria.

(Reporting by John Irish; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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