'UK ready to arm Syria rebels if peace talks fail'

Official tells 'Financial Times' Britain likely to arm rebels in August should Geneva peace conference between Assad, rebels fail.

Syrian opposition fighter (photo credit: REUTERS/Ward Al-Keswani)
Syrian opposition fighter
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ward Al-Keswani)
Britain is prepared to send arms to Syrian rebels should peace talks set for this month fail to bring about an end to the conflict, the Financial Times reported on Friday, citing UK officials.
The EU ban on arming rebels expired last Monday, paving the way for the UK to send weapons to forces fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad.
France and Britain, the biggest supporters of scrapping the embargo, have officially said they had not yet decided to arm rebel forces in Syria. A British official cited in the Financial Times report said, however, that, barring a diplomatic solution to the conflict, it was highly probable the UK would arm the rebels.
“The precise timing has not yet been finalized and no decision has yet been taken. But we are likely to be... shipping arms to the rebels by August,” the official said.
“What I expect is that over the next two or three months, Western powers will move low-grade arms supplies in bulk to the rebels. The rebels need ammunition, and a lot of it, just to keep fighting,” he said.
The United States and Russia are trying to convene an international conference this month to end the 26-monthold conflict.
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Washington is hoping that the conference, known as “Geneva 2” after a first conference last year in the Swiss city, will lead to a transitional government in Syria.
The Financial Times quoted another British official as saying that, both in London and Paris, there are expectations that the US will also begin arming rebels should the June peace conference fail.
The Times quoted Syrian opposition forces as saying the UK had promised to arm rebels as part of its efforts to coax the opposition to take part in the conference.
Syria’s opposition cast doubt on Friday on hopes of any meaningful progress in the international peace talks, after Assad said only a referendum could decide whether he should leave power.
George Sabra, the acting head of the Syrian National Council opposition coalition, said it would stay out of any such talks as long as Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas were fighting alongside Assad’s forces.
It was not clear if the statement by Sabra was the fragmented organization’s final word.
Reuters contributed to this report.