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EU Ends Embargo On Arms To Syria Rebels

British Foreign Secretary William Hague helped lead the campaign to end the EU's arms embargo on Syrian rebels.
The European Union is ending its embargo on supplying arms to Syria’s rebels.

However, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said no decision has been made yet to begin actually providing weapons to fighters trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The EU embargo officially expires at the end of May.

While the arms embargo is being allowed to lapse, diplomats said the EU has agreed to extend for one year all financial and economic sanctions targeting the Assad regime.

Britain, along with France, had led the effort to ease the arms embargo.

The announcement was made after more than 12 hours of talks among foreign ministers May 27 at EU headquarters in Brussels.

Hague said the lifting of the arms embargo should send a “strong signal” to the Assad regime to start negotiations to settle the two-year-old conflict.

Hague added Britain has "no immediate plans to send arms to Syria,” but now has the “flexibility to respond in the future" if necessary.

Austria and other EU members were opposed to allowing the embargo to expire, saying such a step could lead to more bloodshed.

There are also concerns about weapons falling into the hands of extremists in Syria who may have an anti-Western agenda.

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger told reporters he was worried about an “arms race” that could impede efforts to end a conflict that has already claimed an estimated 80,000 lives.

An EU statement said the bloc would review the weapons question again before August 1. Officials said it is unlikely that any EU weapons would be provided to rebels before this time.

Officials said the delay was aimed at giving the opposition leverage during potential peace negotiations with the government cosponsored by the United States and Russia.

Those talks have been proposed to take place next month, but no date has been set.

The U.S. and Russian foreign ministers, John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov, held talks on the planned peace conference on Monday in Paris.

Lavrov said organizing the conference to bring together Syria’s warring parties has been a “tall order,” or difficult challenge.

Based on reports from Reuters, AP, AFP and dpa
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