BRUSSELS (AFP) - European Union foreign ministers on Monday agreed to lift an arms embargo in order to be able to supply weapons to Syrian rebels, British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced.
Announcing the agreement after more than 12 hours of tough talks, Mr Hague said the EU would maintain the remainder of a far-reaching package of sanctions against the Assad regime that had been set to expire Friday at midnight.
He stressed that Britain had "no immediate" plans to supply weapons to rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
"The European Union has agreed to bring to an end the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition and to maintain other sanctions on Syria, all the other existing sanctions on the Syrian regime," Mr Hague said.
"This is the outcome that the United Kingdom wanted," he said, adding that the decision had been "difficult" for those EU nations staunchly opposed to delivering arms they believed would serve only to fuel the conflict.
"I think it is the right decision," he added. "It will support political progress on Syria and our attempts to bring together a Geneva conference.
Mr Hague said Britain saw only a political solution and a diplomatically supported solution for Syria but that Monday's ground-breaking 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."
"While we have no immediate plans to send arms to Syria it gives us the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate and worsen," he added.