EU leaders likely to discuss arming Syrian rebels

Associated Press
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, greets French President Francois Hollande during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, March 15, 2013. On the second anniversary of an uprising that evolved into Syria’s brutal civil war, the European Union’s national leaders will likely discuss whether to arm rebels trying to overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
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BRUSSELS (AP) — On the second anniversary of an uprising that evolved into Syria's brutal civil war, the European Union's national leaders have begun a summit meeting Friday at which they will likely discuss whether to arm rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad's regime.

The item is not on the agenda — the main topic is EU-Russian relations. But French officials have indicated President Francois Hollande may raise it at the meeting, which is taking place in Brussels.

The EU has an embargo prohibiting any arms from being sent to Syria, whether to the rebels or to the Assad regime. That embargo is supposed to remain in effect until May.

France and Britain want to be able supply arms to the rebels, saying the regime is receiving arms from Russia and Iran. With more weaponry, those countries argue, the rebels could defend themselves and the civilian population, and members of the Assad regime would see more clearly the need to negotiate a political settlement.

But some other EU countries say Syria is already awash in weaponry and doesn't need any more. They argue that arming the rebels could simply spark an arms race in the country, as Russia and Iran continue their support for the regime.

The effort to overthrow Assad's regime began as a popular uprising on March 15, 2011. Since then, fighting has spread across the country, claiming more than 70,000 lives and displacing nearly 4 million of Syria's 22 million people.

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