Germany, Austria and other countries pushed back hard against a Franco-British effort to lift an arms embargo on Syria to allow the arming of the rebels — who say they desperately need antiaircraft and other sophisticated weapons to turn the tide of a war that has killed more than 70,000 people.
After a two-day European Union summit meeting in Brussels, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told reporters she worried such a step would “just fan the flames of conflict.”
Gen. Salim Idriss, the leader of the Free Syrian Army, sought Friday to rebut some key arguments marshaled against arming the rebels — fears of sectarian conflict and extremist Islamist influence — by declaring that the rebels welcomed all Syrians into their fold, including members of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect.
“We, the Free Syrian Army, want freedom and democracy for all Syrians, whoever they are — Sunni or Shia, Alawi, Christians or Druze,” he said, naming Syria’s major sects in a video address posted on the Internet.
But two years after Syria’s uprising started with protests over the arrests of young boys for spraying antigovernment graffiti in the southern city of Dara’a, supporters and opponents of President Assad often seem to be describing two different conflicts.
Opponents blame the president for responding to peaceful protests with overwhelming force and, when the rebellion took up arms, leveling entire neighborhoods with air and artillery strikes.
Supporters regard the rebels as foreign-financed extremists who threaten Syria’s minorities. The influence of foreign fighters and donors has grown with the conflict and some rebel groups have turned to indiscriminate weapons like car bombs.
As the two sides dig in militarily across an increasingly divided country, the human toll mounts, further destabilizing the region.
United Nations officials declared Friday that they had received barely one-fifth of the money needed to care for Syrian refugees for the first half of the year — the worst shortfall in recent memory — as their numbers grow at a staggering rate.
In December, when there were about half a million refugees outside the country, the number was expected to double by June.
But it surpassed one million last week — and another 126,000 refugees have been registered since.
“It gives us a chilly feeling down our spine,” Amin Awad, the refugee agency’s Geneva-based emergency director, said in a telephone interview, explaining that it had committed more than half its stocks for global emergency responses to its Syrian operation.
“This is the worst crisis in terms of funding in recent history,” he said. “We are basically living week by week.”
Yet with diplomatic efforts to reach a political solution stuck, and the world divided on whether to provide weapons to the rebels, there is no end in sight.
The United States said Friday that it would permit Americans to send money to Syrian rebel groups, modifying sanctions imposed earlier in the conflict that forbade any transactions with Syrians.
The change was bound to draw criticism from those who worry that money from the United States could end up financing movements that threaten American interests.
The divisions at the Brussels meeting highlighted Europe’s difficulties in speaking with a single voice on international issues, especially foreign military intervention. France and Britain, former imperial powers, take a far more activist approach to foreignaffairs than do Germany and Austria, which have sought for decades to shed any hints of militarism left over from World War II.
Diplomats said France and Britain were largely alone in their push to allow arms deliveries to opponents of Mr. Assad. Europe’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who is British, joined Mrs. Merkel in expressing doubts about the wisdom of lifting the arms embargo.
France, which in January sent troops to Mali, a former French colony, to push back an offensive by Islamist rebels, is frustrated that months after the European Union expressed support for the operation, it has not assembled a promised training mission for the Malian armed forces.
Frances’s president, François Hollande, said he drew hope from the fact that the Europe’s position had already “evolved” from an initial refusal to provide anything but humanitarian aid to the February decision to funnel nonlethal but quasi-military aid such as flak jackets and armored vehicles.
Ms. Merkel on Friday left open the possibility of a further shift, saying that she had “not as yet come to a definitive position” on the question of arms supplies.
She said that Ms. Ashton had presented a number of cautions about supplying lethal weapons, including the risk of instability in Lebanon, the wider Middle East and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, who has for months demanded a more robust European policy in support of the rebels, told members of Parliament in London earlier this week that if other European countries continued to block arms to Syria, Britain would be ready to act unilaterally.
United Nations officials, meanwhile, have little leverage to pressure countries that pledged $1.5 billion at a Syria donor conference in Kuwait a few months ago to make good on their promises.
Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters that given the almost daily headlines on Syria, “we’re a little surprised that this money is not coming forward.”
Other Europeans Balk at Bid by Britain and France to Arm Syria’s Rebels – New York Times
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