European Union (EU) foreign ministers have decided to lift an arms embargo on Syria, opening up the opportunity for member states to start carefully controlled weapons supplies to the country's opposition forces, British foreign secretary William Hague has announced.
Speaking to reporters after an all-day meeting of foreign ministers at the EU Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Hague said the ban would end on 1 June.
"It was a difficult decision for some countries but it was necessary and right to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria," Hague said.
The decision follows negotiations between the 27 EU member states, the majority of whom were initially against relaxing the embargo, stating their belief that the move would only result in more violence.
However, with the UK and France blocking a compromise deal to halt the decision on equipping the opposition until August, the members agreed to lift the embargo on the condition that all measures should be taken to control exports and ensure they do not reach extremists or terrorist organisations.
All other existing EU sanctions against Bashar al-Assad's regime will remain in place.
Despite noting that this was the outcome the UK had wanted, Hague said the country does not have any immediate plans to start weapon supplies to the Syrian National Coalition.
EU's Foreign Affairs Council is expected to review this position before 1 August, on the basis of a report by the High Representative, following consultations with the UN Secretary General, on the developments related to the US-Russia initiative and on the engagement of the Syrian parties.
Britain has already provided a £13m assistance package, including non-combat armoured 4x4 vehicles, body armour for personal protection to the Syrian opposition to help end prolonged humanitarian crisis in the country.
Image: British foreign secretary William Hague. Photo: courtesy of US Department of State.