European foreign ministers have lifted an arms embargo on Syria, paving the way for individual EU member states to provide weapons to the Syrian rebels.
The foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday to bridge their differences over the issue, with Britain and France pushing to allow European governments to deliver arms.
- Extension of trade, finance and infrastructure restrictions
- Weapons ban ends
- Individual countries decide on arms delivery
After more than 12 hours of talks, EU governments failed to agree on extending the arms embargo, which effectively ends the EU's ban on supplying arms to the rebels, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
"We have brought to an end the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition," Hague said after the inconclusive talks, adding that Britain had no immediate plans to send arms to Syria.
"This was the outcome that the United Kingdom wanted. 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 in a statement.
"It was important for Europe to send a clear signal to the Assad regime that it has to negotiate seriously, and that all options remain on the table if it refuses to do so. Tonight EU nations have done just that."
He said EU member states would reassert all other existing EU sanctions on Syria.
Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger confirmed that the EU failed to reach an agreement on the arms embargo.
"I regret that after long talks it was not possible to find a compromise with the UK and France," Spindelegger told reporters.
Austria, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic are extremely reticent about pouring more arms into Syria, saying relaxing the arms embargo would only lead to more violence.
Adib Shishakly, a Syria National Council representative, said obtaining weapons from the EU would be crucial for the rebels.
"(I hope) each individual European country in the EU will take their own action and support the Syrian people in protecting themselves. This is a must. We cannot wait. The next meeting date is in August. We are losing lives every day, we just cannot wait anymore."
The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has been using extensive firepower against lightly armed rebel factions.
More than 94,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad's regime erupted in March 2011, according to the latest UN figures.
Both sides have agreed in principle to enter direct talks in the Swiss city of Geneva next month, backed by both the US and Russia.
Nations who back arming of the opposition say it would create a level playing field that would force Assad into a negotiated settlement.
"The [EU move] will be regarded as a diplomatic victory for Britain and France and seen on Paris and London as a powerful incentive for Assad to engage in the upcoming Geneva Peace conference," Al Jazeera’s Peter Sharp, reporting from Brussels, said.
"It remains to be seen if Damascus sees it that way," he said.
The date, agenda and list of participants for the so-called Geneva 2 conference remain unclear, and wide gaps persist about its objectives.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition, which has been meeting in the Turkish city of Istanbul since Thursday, has yet to reach an official position on the peace initiative.