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France armed Syrian rebels 'months ago'

Published: 21 Aug 2014 14:55 GMT+02:00

President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that France had delivered weapons to rebels battling the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad "a few months ago."

The deliveries took place "a few months ago, when the Syrian rebels had to face both the armies of the dictator Bashar al-Assad and this terrorist group Islamic State," Hollande told reporters on a tour of the French island of La Reunion.

"We cannot leave the only Syrians who are preparing a democracy ... without weapons," he added.

What is happening currently in Syria is "terrible," he said. "On one side, the state of Bashar al-Assad which continues to crush and massacre, (on the other) Islamic State, and, in the middle, those who were supposed to lay the ground for the future, caught in a pincer movement."

"So we should not stop the support that we have given to these rebels who are the only ones to take part in the democratic process," said the president.

Nevertheless France cannot "go it alone", stressed Hollande, adding there was "a good understanding with Europe and the Americans."

Hollande had said in an interview with Le Monde daily published on Wednesday that France had shipped "material that conformed with European commitments" without offering further details.

He added in that interview that the international community bore a "heavy responsibility" for what is happening in Syria, with its knock-on effects in Iraq.

"If, two years ago, we had acted to ensure a transition, we wouldn't have had Islamic State.

"If, one year ago, the major powers had reacted to the use of chemical weapons, we wouldn't have had this terrible choice between a dictator and a terrorist group," adding that the rebels "deserve all our support".

France made it clear as long ago as March 2013 that it was prepared to arm rebels in Syria.

Along with Britain France called on the EU to lift an embargo so rebel fight "resistance fighters have the possibility of defending themselves," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Info radio in March 2013.

In September last year Hollande hinted that Paris was ready to send weapons with a "controlled framework", despite fears the arms could fall into the wrong hands.

"We will do it in a broader context with a number of countries and in a framework that can be controlled, because we cannot accept that weapons could fall into the hands of jihadists that we have fought against here," the president said in September, 2013.

Up until then France had provided non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels, ranging from bullet-proof vests, night-vision goggles and communications equipment.

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AFP/The Local (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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