Syrian rebels and civilians gather around the remains of a Syrian government fighter jet. Photo: AFP
Syria: The campaign to arm Syria’s opposition fighters have received two major boosts with the news that the European Union will lift an embargo on the provision of arms to Syria’s so-called “moderate opposition”, while the US may come under increased pressure to do the same.
The EU developments came as it was revealed that US Senator John McCain, a vocal advocate for the provision of US military aid to the Free Syrian Army, crossed the Turkish border into Syria for several hours to meet with rebel commanders.
He made the unannounced visit with General Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, and met with the leaders of several FSA brigades who had travelled from across the country for the meeting, the news website, the Daily Beast reported.
British Foreign Minister William Hague says Europe will lift the Syrian arms embargo. Photo: AFP
The rebels called for the US to provide Syria’s opposition fighters with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone and airstrikes on both the Syrian regime and Hezbollah, whose militants are now openly fighting alongside regime forces, the Daily Beast said.
Senator McCain has been a long-time critic of President Barack Obama’s decision not to provide military assistance to Syria’s divided opposition, and his visit comes as the US Government is again considering how it can ramp up its package of “non-lethal” assistance to the rebels.
As Syrian government forces backed by Hezbollah militia continue their now week-long offensive in the Syrian border town of Quasir, where they are attempting to regain control from rebel fighters, one activist inside the town said government forces were shelling indiscriminately in what some described as the worst fighting since the Syrian civil war began more than two years ago.
"On average, about 40 shells per minute hit the town," Rifaie Tammas told Al Jazeera.
The debate over how to respond to the Syrian civil war has exposed deep divisions inside Europe.
Only Britain and France backed the lifting of the arms embargo to the Syrian Opposition, and although the 25 other states opposed to the move it is understood to have succeeded because of a desire to present a unified EU front.
While the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague stressed that Britain had “no immediate" plans to supply weapons to the Syrian rebels, the EU’s decision "sends a very strong message from Europe to the Assad regime of what we think of the continued brutality and murder and criminality of this regime."
After three days of intense deliberations, Syria’s fragmented opposition failed to reach consensus on whether to attend peace talks backed by the US and Russia aimed at ending the conflict which has not cost upwards of 80,000 lives and displaced at least 1.5 million people.
The US and Russia want representatives of the Syrian Government and the Opposition to meet in Geneva next month to work towards a possible transition government.
Meanwhile, the effects increasingly sectarian battle inside Syria continued to reverberate across the border in Lebanon, where deadly street fighting in the northern city of Tripoli has killed 28 and wounded more than 200 in the last week.
And three shells that residents say were fired by Syrian rebels have hit the village of Hermel, a predominantly Shia area of Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, killing a young girl, Al Jazeera reports.
It followed Sunday’s rocket attack, which wounded five people in a Shi'ite neighbourhood of Beirut and marked the first targeting of Hezbollah's stronghold in the south of the capital.