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BRUSSELS — Divisions among European Union foreign ministers on Monday prevented the renewal of the arms embargo on Syria, raising the possibility of a new flow of weapons to rebels fighting to bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

European Union Headquarters


“While we have no immediate plans to send arms to Syria, it gives us the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate and worsen,” William Hague, the British foreign secretary, said after more than 12 hours of stormy talks.In a declaration, the European Union said member states that might wish to send weapons to Syrian rebels “shall assess the export license applications on a case-by-case basis” in line with the organization’s rules on exports of military technology and equipment.

William Hague

The ministers did agree to renew all the economic sanctions already in place against the Syrian government.

But efforts to ease the arms embargo, led by Britain, exposed deep rifts on Monday over the issue of arming the rebels.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart to continue to try to organize peace talks in Geneva next month.

Austria, the Czech Republic and Sweden came to the meeting strongly opposing arms shipments. They distrust large parts of the Syrian opposition and said they feared that the weapons would end up in the hands of jihadist groups.

They also said funneling arms to the opposition now would undermine the chances of a deal with the Assad government before the planned peace conference in Geneva.

There were also fears that Russia, which already sends arms to the Syrian government, would feel freer to send more.

France supported Britain in seeking to ease the embargo, but had called for a wider consensus.

The European ministers said it was now up to each member state to decide for itself whether to export weapons to the opposition, because the arms-export issue had been separated from the other sanctions.

In a sign of the tensions, the Austrian foreign minister, Michael Spindelegger, held an impromptu news conference late Monday warning that the end of the embargo risked creating a situation where “everybody is entitled to deliver weapons to the Assad regime or to the opposition.”

The failure to agree means that the European Union’s existing package of sanctions will lapse after Friday. But ministers emphasized that economic sanctions like asset freezes and travel bans on Syrian officials would continue.

A lapse of all the sanctions would have been a serious embarrassment for the bloc.

“I’m glad at the end of the day we were able to have a sanctions regime for all the other sanctions that were in place,” Frans Timmermans, the Dutch foreign minister, said after the meeting.

Mr. Timmermans said none of the union’s member nations, including his own, intended to ship arms to the Syrian rebels immediately. But he warned that lifting the arms embargo could lead Russia to step up its arms shipments to the Assad government.

“The only effect you could have — let’s be realistic about this — is that it will stimulate the Russians to provide even more arms,” he said. “But they’ve been providing so many arms that I’m sure even more will not make much of a difference.”

With new concerns being raised about whether Syrian military forces were using chemical weapons, and intense fighting continuing in the city of Qusayr, the United Nations top human rights official on Monday blamed all parties in the conflict for “flagrant disregard of international law and human life.”

Appalling violations of the most basic human rights are occurring in Syria,” said the official, Navi Pillay, the high commissioner for human rights, speaking in Geneva at the opening session of the Human Rights Council.

Invoking the responsibility of governments to protect the civilians of other countries from war crimes, Ms. Pillay said, “I fear that we in the international community are failing to meet our fundamental obligations to the victims.”

Source: International Herald Tribune

Nizeyimana Jean Pierre