Austria wants EU arms embargo to Syria extended

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Associated Press

Posted on May 24, 2013 at 9:32 AM

Updated Friday, May 24 at 10:04 AM

VIENNA (AP) — The European Union's arms embargo to Syria should be extended while a political solution is sought in its civil war and to maintain the safety of U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights, Austria's foreign minister said Friday.

Austria's 377 soldiers make up the largest contingent of the approximately 900 U.N. peacekeepers posted to the Golan Heights separating Syria and Israel.

Michael Spindelegger, Austria's foreign minister, told The Associated Press that they could be targeted by Syrian government forces, if EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday decide to allow members to ship arms to rebels trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

He also said a flow of weapons into the country could exacerbate the conflict, threaten a U.S.-Russian initiative to end it, and further split the U.N. Security Council on how to work together on the issue.

"We believe there are enough weapons in Syria," Spindelegger said. "We support a cease-fire, not weapons deliveries."

France and Britain are the main EU proponents of arming the rebels. About half a dozen smaller countries, including Austria, oppose that within the 27-nation bloc, with the rest somewhere in between.

Beyond backing the arms embargo on principle, Austrian officials argue that Syria would no longer view Austrian peacekeepers as neutral because of the country's EU membership, if other EU nations started arming anti-Assad forces.

Lifting the EU embargo "would give us real problems on the Golan Heights," said Spindelegger.

Austria has not fought in a war since it became neutral after World War II.

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