United Kingdom

Russia Warns the UK Not to Arm Syrian Rebels

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Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/flickr

Russia has said that any attempt by the British government to arm the Syria opposition will be a violation of international law.

Last week British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the U.K. will send body armor and armored vehicles to Syrian rebels. Hague today said that the British government was keeping its options open. From the BBC:

During a press conference following a meeting with his British counterpart, Mr Lavrov said: "In our point of view it [arming the Syrian opposition] is a violation of international law."

But Mr Hague said it wasn't clear how grave the situation would become, adding: "We have never ruled out anything in the future."

"Anything we do will be legal and clearly stated to our country and to the international community."

And he insisted: "As long as a political solution is not found we will increase our support to the opposition and to the Syrian people to save lives and promote that political solution."

The BBC is also reporting that British Prime Minister David Cameron is considering vetoing an extension to the European Union's arms embargo on Syria.

While the U.S. and its European allies have not yet directly armed Assad's opposition there are reports that American, British, and French instructors have been training opposition forces in Jordan. However, according to The Guardian those being trained will not be heading back into Syria unless the situation deteriorates even further:

A Jordanian source familiar with the training operations said: "It's the Americans, Brits and French with some of the Syrian generals who defected. But we're not talking about a huge operation."

He added that there had so far been no "green light" for the rebel forces being trained to be sent into Syria. But they would be deployed if there were signs of a complete collapse of public services in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, which could trigger a million more Syrians seeking refuge in Jordan, which is reeling under the strain of accommodating the 320,000 who have already sought shelter there. 

The Arab League recently announced that its members were free to send aid to Syrian rebels, and Israeli President Shimon Peres urged Arabs to intervene in Syria at a speech to the European Parliament yesterday. 

The situation in Syria makes arming Assad's opposition difficult. While no one doubts the atrocities being carried out by Assad's forces the fact remains that many of the Syrian rebels have been accused of horrific crimes and have jihadist sympathies. It would be difficult to arm vetted rebel groups without being able to guarantee that weapons would not end up in the hands of the unpleasant elements of Assad's opposition. However, it is concerns regarding international law that is worrying the Russian government about Syrian rebels receiving weapons, not potential human rights abuses by Assad's opposition.