EU rejects UK plea to arm Syrian rebels
BRITAIN and France have been left isolated after their call to lift an embargo on supplying weapons to Syrian rebels was rejected by other EU countries.
Opponents of the Franco-British stance are fearful of sparking an arms race with Russia and escalating a conflict which has already left 70,000 dead.
French president Francois Hollande went into the EU summit on Thursday calling for the lifting of the arms embargo before it expires in May.
Britain's David Cameron wanted to use the two-year anniversary of the uprising yesterday to prod other nations into stepping up assistance to the rebels.
But Germany, Austria, Sweden and other nations disagreed.
"One has to ask if it doesn't fan the flames of the conflict," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Referring to the EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, Mrs Merkel added: "Lady Ashton pointed to the fact that Iran and Russia are only waiting for a signal to export arms to (Syrian president Bashar) al-Assad."
Russia has stood by Assad throughout the conflict and continues to ship weapons to the Damascus regime.
One diplomat struggled to come up with the names of any countries that had backed Mr Hollande and Mr Cameron's proposals, saying: "There are many member states that have reservations."
The EU arms embargo was relaxed last month to allow for non-lethal assistance to be channelled to the rebels. However, it still forbids the provision of guns and France and Britain have argued that this is creating an imbalance as arms are flowing from both Russia and Iran to regime forces.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny would not be drawn on whether the embargo on arming the Syrian rebels should be lifted. The issue will be dealt with at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Dublin next Friday.
He said: "It is now two years since this conflict began and it has caused enormous disruption to two million families, with 70,000 dead. Individual conclusions are not what is needed here."