Syrian rebels patrol in the northwestern town
Syrian rebels patrol in the northwestern town AFP photo

European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to lift an arms embargo in order to supply weapons to Syrian rebels, British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced, according to AFP.

Announcing the agreement after more than 12 hours of tough talks, Hague said the EU would maintain the remainder of a far-reaching package of sanctions against the Assad regime that are set to expire Friday at midnight.

Hague, who had led efforts for the restrictions on weapons to be relaxed, said at the same time that "no immediate decision" would be made on sending arms to the rebels fighting Bashar Al-Assad's regime.

Hague wrote on Twitter, according to the Belfast Telegraph, "Right EU decision tonight. Arms embargo on Syrian opposition ended. No immediate decision to send arms. Other sanctions remain."

The EU's arms embargo was due to expire at the end of the month and talks appeared to have faltered earlier on agreeing a new common position for the 27 member states.

Ahead of the meeting, Hague insisted that amending the embargo would force Assad's regime to take peace talks seriously.

"In our view it's important to show that we are prepared to amend our arms embargo so that the Assad regime gets a clear signal that it has to negotiate seriously,” he said, according to the Belfast Telegraph. “Therefore, for us, amending the embargo is part of supporting the diplomatic work to bring about the political solution.

"We also have to think about what is happening to people in Syria, how long can we go on with people having every weapon that's ever been devised dropped on them while most of the world denies them the means to defend themselves,” he added. “That is creating extremism, it is radicalizing people. We are reaching the limit of how long we can go on with that situation."

Those in favor of an absolute embargo on Syria included Austria, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden. Recently, the Austrian Foreign Minister insisted that the EU preserve its identity as "a peace community by not being involved in such a conflict", highlighting some of the ideological underpinnings of his country's position.

Britain and France had been pushing for the EU arms embargo to be allowed to expire, but those opposed to the move have expressed concern that "rebels" are not a cohesive movement but a tangle of competing brigades with an array of loyalties and aspirations, both national and regional.

One of these groups is the jihadist force al-Nusra Front, which pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in April.

The group has taken up positions close to Syria's border with Israel, adjacent to the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

In a video released on YouTube, the group's soldiers are seen conducting training exercises in the Dar'a area of southern Syria, right next to the Heights. In the exercise, the soldiers are seen attempting to take over a building, using weapons and bombs.

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