No-fly zone only solution for Syrian conflict – George Vella

Foreign affairs minister says UK and France forced EU’s hand on lifting Syrian arms embargo, insists no-fly zone is only solution to deadly conflict.

Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella
Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella

The EU's decision to lift its ban on arming Syrian rebels followed British and French pressure foreign affairs minister George Vella said.

Explaining that Malta, along with13 other EU member states opposed the lifting of the ban, Vella told Parliament that he believes that the only solution for the 26-month conflict was the imposition of a no-fly zone.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has been using extensive firepower against lightly armed rebel factions. More than 94,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad's regime erupted in March 2011, according to the latest UN figures.

On Monday, European foreign ministers lifted an arms embargo on Syria, paving the way for individual EU member states to provide weapons to the Syrian rebels.
The foreign ministers met in Brussels this week to bridge their differences over the issue, with Britain and France pushing to allow European governments to deliver arms.

Reportedly, the US Administration has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced by the U.S. and other countries such as France and Great Britain.

Without singling out any countries, Vella said that it was personally "painful" to hear arguments that lifting the embargo would help create jobs in the arms industry. France and the UK are the fourth and sixth biggest weapon exporters in the world.

Vella explained that following excruciating discussions which lasted over 12 hours, the EU foreign ministers decided to lift the ban which was set to expire at the end of May.

He said that the foreign affairs council hyad originally considered seven options, which were reduced to three: extending the present sanctions under the same conditions for an agreed period of time, lifting them completely and a third option which would have seen the embargo remain in place with the possibility of providing non-lethal military equipment and and equipment for internal repression under certain conditions.

The third option also included the possibility of individual EU member states supplying lethal military equipment to the Syrian rebels under certain conditions.

"In my intervention I repeatedly stressed that we backed the first option, that is extending the current ban," Vella said, adding that he also expressed hope that thye US-Russia talks would be fruitful.

"I expressed my concerns that arming rebels could provide the Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad with an excuse to avoid peace talks, dubbed Geneva II, apart from adding fuel to fire and foster further violence and prolong the humanitarian emergency." Vella said.

The minister also explained that he argued that there could be no guarantee that weapons supplied to rebels do not end up in the wrong hands. He added that in the eventuality of the Assad regime being brought down, the weapons could end up being used by different factions in a civil war.

The EU declaration on Syria came after 12 hours of talks in Brussels. Foreign ministers were unable to reach the unanimous decision required to extend the current arms embargo, and so agreed to renew the other sanctions - including an assets freeze on President Assad and his aides, and restrictions on trade in oil and financial transactions - without it.

The BBC's Jim Muir, in Beirut, says it is clear that the EU decision will not make much difference on the ground in the immediate future.

Member states can now decide their own policy on sending arms to Syria, but agreed not to "proceed at this stage with the delivery" of equipment.

The EU's Foreign Affairs Council is to review this position before 1 August, in light of fresh developments to end the conflict including the ongoing US-Russia peace initiative.

Britain and France had been pressing for the ability to send weapons to what they call moderate opponents of President Assad, saying it would push Damascus towards a political solution to the two-year conflict.

There has been increasing pressure on the international community to act since allegations emerged of chemical weapons being used in the conflict. Syria has denied using chemical weapons.



So Europe is helping the Syrian rebels-at the gates of Europe- full of Al Qajda fundamentalists? My mind boggles and I think there is more to it than meets the eye. Whose interest is Europe and the US guarding -its citizens or somebody else's?