EU foreign ministers try to stop violence in Syria

March 11, 2013

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union foreign ministers are meeting Monday to discuss ways to end the violence in Syria, a country wracked by a civil war that has killed an estimated 70,000 people so far.

They may discuss adjusting the EU's blanket arms embargo against the country to allow munitions to be funneled to rebels trying to overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad. But diplomats from some EU countries say that more guns is the last thing Syria needs.

Gen. Salim Idris, head of the rebel army, travelled to Brussels last week to plead for arms from the international community.

In February, Britain pushed successfully for changes to the embargo that would allow EU countries to provide nonlethal aid to the rebels. On his way into the meeting, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain was taking full advantage of the change, and was sending equipment such as armored four-wheel drive vehicles, body armor and other protective gear.

He said France, Germany and Italy were thinking of acting along the same lines.

"It is a human catastrophe now in Syria," Hague said. "More than a million refugees in neighboring countries, millions of other people displaced, many tens of thousands dead."

The foreign ministers will meet with Lakhdar Brahimi, the special representative for Syria of the United Nations and the Arab League, who is trying to bring about a political settlement. Hague said the U.K. supported Brahimi's work, although he said more aid to the rebels may be needed to show the Assad regime what might happen in the absence of a diplomatic solution.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also backed a political solution.

"We need to stop the killing," Ashton said Monday, calling the situation in Syria "devastating."