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Wednesday 17 January 2018

EU ministers clash over arms for Syrian rebels

Lyndsey Telford

European foreign ministers were at odds during intensive talks on whether an arms embargo on Syrian rebels should be lifted.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague clashed with Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore, who insisted sending more weapons into the war-torn country would result in further casualties.

Mr Gilmore dashed any prospect of a pan-European agreement on arming rebels.

He said more guns would lead to more casualties, and that EU ministers should focus on a political solution to the crisis.

"I think further militarisation in Syria would certainly not be helpful," the Tanaiste said.

"The more arms that go into Syria, the more casualties there will be."

He added that protecting civilians should be a priority.

"We need to support a political solution, a peaceful solution, and we need to ensure that humanitarian aid will be permitted to be provided to the people of Syria," Mr Gilmore said.

The UK and France have been vocal in their hopes of arming rebel forces.

Opposition

But Ireland was joined by Finland and Belgium in voicing its fierce opposition to the further militarisation of Syria.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said his country would be "cautious" of any moves that would endanger more lives.

The Finnish minister added it was important that the EU states stick together on the divisive issue.

A European Union embargo remains in place preventing the arming of the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

However, pressure has heightened this week in the wake of the reported use of chemical weapons.

As EU foreign ministers met in Dublin, Mr Hague said there was "a very strong case" for lifting the embargo.

But he insisted no final decision was expected in the immediate future.

"This is not a decision-making meeting on Syrian sanctions. There will be further meetings over the coming weeks," he said.

Mr Gilmore was holding talks with his European counterparts at Dublin Castle as part of Ireland's presidency of the EU.

The threat that UK-supplied weapons could fall into the hands of jihadists in Syria is one of the primary concerns against arming rebels.

The European arms embargo was relaxed last month to allow the supply of non-lethal military equipment.

The UK is sending body armour and armoured cars.

Irish Independent

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