Britain has given a “clear signal” that the West is ready to arm Syrian rebels within months, after winning a diplomatic battle to ensure that a European Union ban on arming opposition fighters is reviewed early next year
The decision, taken by ambassadors to the EU, is intended as a strong message to Bashar al-Assad’s regime that European governments are increasingly willing to offer military support to rebels.
A package of EU economic and military sanctions due to expire on Dec 1 had been expected to roll over for another 12 months.
But a one-year renewal would have created a major legal obstacle for arming the rebels or stepping up Western intervention in Syria, so earlier this week Britain tabled a proposal that sanctions, including the arms ban, should only be renewed for three months.
With French support, Britain overcame strident opposition from Sweden, the Czech Republic and Belgium, who had passive German support, for what could well prove to be a vital shift in Western policy on Syria.
The decision will create the ability to supply weapons to rebel forces soon after March 1, two years after the outbreak of protests that led a civil war and an estimated 40,000 deaths.