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Syria

EU lifts Syrian opposition arms embargo

The European Union has agreed to lift its arms embargo on the Syrian opposition. However, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has said London has no immediate plans to send arms.

After marathon talks in Brussels Monday night, EU foreign ministers agreed to lift the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition and reassert all other EU sanctions against Syria, Britain's Foreign Secretary Hague announced.

"We have brought to an end the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition," Hague said after the talks, but he insisted that Britain had "no immediate plans to send arms to Syria," adding that the lifted embargo "gives us flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate."

Announcing the deal, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said, "All positions on this are really honorable because everyone is trying to work out how best to support the people of Syria, and how best to ensure we get to a political solution as quickly as possible."

Tough negotiations over Syria

The EU nations have been steadfast opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the war. However, Britain and France - the EU's biggest military powers - have been the most outspoken in lifting the embargo in order to help the embattled opposition.

After the deal, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, "The fact that the package of sanctions is being continued is an important signal by Europe against violence."

Meanwhile, in Paris on Monday meetings took place to persuade Syria's fractured opposition to take part in an international peace conference in Geneva next month as proposed jointly by the US and Russia.

After talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said organizing the peace talks will not be easy, saying it is, "a very tall order."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon voiced "deep concern" at Hezbollah's admitted combat role, saying this raised the risk of the Syrian conflict spilling into Lebanon. He said the proposed Geneva conference should be held "as soon as possible."

McCain visits rebels via Turkey

The deal coincided with earlier reports that US Republican Senator John McCain, a former presidential candidate, entered Syria via Turkey and met with rebels during a brief visit on Monday.

Spokespersons for McCain declined to give details about his visit. It came a week after a US Senate panel voted to send weapons to forces fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The administration of US President Barack Obama has boosted humanitarian aid, but it has stopped short of providing lethal assistance to Syrian rebels.

Battles rage inside Syria

On Monday, heavy fighting raged further around the strategic eastern Syrian border town of Qusair and in eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus.

Opposition activists quoted by Reuters said Syrian troops backed by Lebanon-based Hezbollah fighters were pressing an assault on rebel-held Qusair.

hc/lw (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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