BRUSSELS - The European Union's foreign policy chief urged caution on Saturday about a Franco-British drive to lift an EU arms embargo to help rebels in Syria, Reuters reported.
Other EU governments rebuffed efforts by Paris and London at an EU summit on Friday to lift the Syrian arms embargo to help foreign-sponsored rebels fighting against the government of opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, although they asked foreign ministers to discuss it again next week.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU needed to think "very carefully" about French and British arguments that lifting the embargo would encourage Assad to negotiate.
The EU should also consult UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and Moaz al-Khatib, head of the so-called Syrian National Coalition, about impact lifting the embargo might have on their efforts to start talks to end the Syria crisis, she said.
"What we've got to make sure of is anything we do not make that (work) harder," she said, speaking at a conference organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a group committed to strengthening transatlantic cooperation.
Germany led opposition to the Franco-British move to lift the embargo to help the rebels after two years of civil war that have killed 70,000 people, according to UN estimates. Another 940,000 have fled the country and more than 10% of Syria's 20 million residents have been forced to move elsewhere inside the country, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said.
Ashton said she had told EU leaders at Friday's summit that they must think through very carefully the implications of lifting the arms embargo.
"Would putting weapons into the field make it more or less likely that others will do the same? What would be the response of Assad based on what we know about his response so far? Would it stop people being killed or would it kill people faster?" she said.
Meanwhile, the first Syrian rebels trained by U.S. military and intelligence officers in Jordan returned to Syria on Thursday, a senior rebel spokesman told CNN.
About 300 rebel fighters received specialized training in Jordan in the use of various weapons, including anti-tank, anti-aircraft and other types of advanced systems, the spokesman said.
On March 11, a UN investigation into the Syrian crisis said that the violence in the country has reached “new heights of destruction.”
“There is an urgent need for a sustained diplomatic initiative to put an end to the violence and the suffering of the Syrian population,” Paulo Pinheiro, the Chair of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“If the national, regional, and international actors fail to find a solution to the conflict and stop the agony of millions of civilians, the alternative will be the political, economic, and social destruction of Syria and its society, with devastating implications for the region and the world,” Pinheiro stated.
He also said that the foreign-backed rebels have been executing captured Syrian Army soldiers after trials in their own makeshift courts.
In addition, Pinheiro said the militants are recruiting child soldiers as young as 13.
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