CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, which runs drone programs targeting militants in Pakistan and Yemen, has recently increased focus on identifying threats in Syria and instructed several targeting officers to improve intelligence gathering on militants in Syria.
This carries the implication that the agency is preparing plans for counter-action – both violent and nonviolent – against potential militants, the Los Angeles Times said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Eliot Engel plans to propose a bill in support of providing arms and training to Syrian opposition forces.
The idea is supported by officials from both parties – last month, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio suggested providing the Syrian opposition with ammunition, and Secretary of State John Kerry announced a package of ‘nonlethal assistance.'
Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that any arming of the opposition in Syria breaches international law.
Voice of Russia, RT
The EU summit has failed to find a common ground on lifting arms embargo against Syria, European Council’s President Herman Van Rompuy has said.
He confirmed that the issue was brought up at the Friday meeting, although it wasn’t part of today’s agenda.
The EU summit has begun debating the Syrian arms embargo, which wasn’t initially part of its Friday agenda, an insider source reports.
Austria, fearing for the safety of its peacekeepers on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, said on Friday it opposed a French push to lift a European Union ban on arming Syrian rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.
Austrian Defence Minister Gerald Klug also demanded United Nations guarantees that the observers can be rotated and get supplies via Syria, amid growing concerns about their security.
He spoke a day after French President François Hollande said Paris and London would urge EU governments on Friday to increase help to Assad's opponents after a two-year-old uprising.
Other EU governments, including Germany, have resisted any scrapping of the arms embargo, saying this would fuel violence, especially if Western-supplied arms reached militant Islamists.
"One can never rule out whose hands more weapons will end up in, and that's why I am against this suggestion," Klug, who took office on Monday, told national broadcaster ORF.
The vulnerability of the 1,000-member U.N. peacekeeping force on the Golan was highlighted last week when Syrian rebels detained 21 unarmed observers, all Filipinos, for three days.
The U.N. troops have since scaled back patrols, diplomats told Reuters on Thursday.
Diplomats at U.N. headquarters in New York have expressed concern over the future of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), whose mission began in 1974. Austria, the only participating EU state, contributes 375 peacekeepers to UNDOF.
Asked whether there were evacuation plans for the Austrians, Klug called this a "very sensitive subject".
"I demand from the U.N. that we get assurances that supplies and troop rotations are possible viaSyria. In addition we demand that the contingent that is being withdrawn by Croatia is replenished by the U.N.," he said.
Japan announced its withdrawal from UNDOF three months ago due to the violence in Syria. Croatiasaid last month it would also pull out its troops as a precaution after reports, which it denied, that Croatian arms had been shipped to Syrian rebels.
Two Austrian peacekeepers were wounded in November when their convoy came under fire nearDamascus airport.
Once the Croatians leave, UNDOF will have contingents only from Austria, India and the Philippines. A senior Western diplomat has said Manila is considering pulling its troops out.
France and Britain are prepared to arm Syrian rebels even without unanimous EU support, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday.
Paris and London will call for moving up the date of the next European Union meeting on the Syria arms embargo, and will decide to arm the rebels if the EU does not give unanimous agreement, he said.
Mr. Fabius said his country and the UK were ready to jointly supply armed to Syrian rebels without a green light from the EU because the latter failed to find a common ground. “France is a sovereign nation,” he said in an interview to France info.
He said Paris and London decided to take this step to fix the evident imbalance between Russia and Iran backed Assad forces and rebels who he said were denied the right to protect themselves.
The French foreign minister said France and Britain were going to ask “the Europeans now to lift the embargo so that the resistance fighters have the possibility of defending themselves.” “We must move quickly and we along with the British will ask for the meeting to be moved up,” he added.
A correspondent of The Voice of Russia reports that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that arming the Syrian opposition by foreign countries ran counter to international law. He expressed this opinion after the first session of the Russian-British strategic dialogue in the ‘two plus two’ format which was held in London on Wednesday.
Lavrov said that we could remember Libya where the UN Security Council introduced an embargo on arms deliveries but they actually continued.
The Russian Foreign Minister also said that the future of Bashar al-Assad should be determined by the Syrian people.
He urged western partners to facilitate the establishment of a team in the ranks of the opposition for talks with the government.
Lavrov pointed out that if the aim is stopping the violence in the country all preliminary conditions should be cancelled.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that supplying the Syrian opposition with weapons was illegal under international law, a day after Britain floated the possibility it might bypass an EU arms embargo to do just that.
"International law does not permit the supply of arms to non-governmental actors and our point of view is that it is a violation of international law," Lavrov told a news conference in London via a translator.
Russia, which has itself sold weapons to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and has repeatedly blocked tough action against him at the United Nations, says the only way to solve the Syrian crisis is through dialogue.
But Britain, and countries such as France and Turkey, are increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress in that direction and have begun to talk about the possibility of lifting an EU arms embargo to allow the rebels to be armed.
Lavrov and British Foreign Secretary William Hague stressed that they both believed in political dialogue, but their difference of opinion over arming the rebels and over taking tough action against Syria in the U.N. Security Council laid bare their disunity.
Lavrov said he was concerned about the presence of Islamist radicals among the rebels.
The two-year-old conflict started out as pro-democracy protests, but has descended into an increasingly sectarian war. Some 70,000 people have been killed and more than one million refugees have fled the violence.
Voice of Russia, AFP, Reuters, TASS