UK and France ready to arm Syrian rebels
Britain and France are prepared to arm Syrian rebels unless the European Union lifts a blanket arms embargo on the country, David Cameron will tell a Brussels summit today.
The British prime minister will tell other EU leaders that he and Francois Hollande, the French president, can no longer stand by as the Syrian regime, armed by Russia and Iran, kills civilians and seeks to crush rebels.
"There is a perversity about an arms embargo. It doesn't stop those aiding Assad," a Number 10 source said.
"It does stop EU countries and others helping those against whom Assad is waging a brutal and terrorising war."
The British and French leaders will interrupt the scheduled agenda at the European Council summit in Brussels to demand EU-wide action within weeks.
Mr Cameron will clash with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who fears that arming Syrian rebels will cause the conflict to spill over into the wider region and that weapons could end up in the hands of extremist Islamist groups.
Britain is frustrated that, under the EU sanctions regime, the embargo on arming Syria's opposition cannot be reviewed until the end of May despite the fact that more than 70,000 Syrians have died in the fighting. It is understood that the British and French would be prepared to act together if no EU-wide deal can be reached.
The British government is not considering breaking the EU arms embargo to provide "lethal assistance" to moderate groups fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
However, a case could be made under international law for such action on "humanitarian grounds".
More than 1.1 million refugees have fled Syria since the conflict began, with the United Nations saying that the number had risen by 10pc in the past week alone.(© Daily Telegraph, London)