Rebel forces in Syria may get weapons from some countries in Europe over the next few months, according to a report that appeared in The Guardian on Friday, March 1.
Until Thursday, February 28, the European Union (EU) had an embargo against selling arms to Syria. Diplomatic Editor Julian Borger of The Guardian said restrictions have been relaxed to give Syrian rebels some forms of aid.
According to Borger, "The EU formally changed its arms embargo on Syria on Thursday to allow the supply of armored vehicles, non-lethal military equipment and technical aid to the opposition. The move came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made his first trip to a Muslim nation since taking office, visiting Ankara, where he met Turkish leaders to discuss Syria.
"... On British insistence, the EU embargo will come up for review in June and the [United Kingdom] is expected to push for a further relaxation in what can be provided to the opposition if there is no let-up in the two-year-old conflict, in which more than 70,000 people are estimated to have died."
The predominantly Sunni rebels and the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party government run by President Bashar al-Assad have been fighting since March 15, 2011. The conflict started with a series of demonstrations and then evolved into a civil war.
According to Wikipedia, the main goal of the rebels is to "[demand] the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in Syria since 1971, as well as the end to nearly five decades of Ba'ath Party rule."
However, the ongoing conflict has increasingly become a sectarian battle between rival religious factions. This plays out in a variety of ways.
On Wednesday, January 23, Human Rights Watch published a press release that stated some rebel groups have targeted Shia Muslims and their holy sites in northern Syria. The rebels also looted two Christian churches.
More recently, new allegations of fighting between Shia and Sunni Muslims were published in an Al Jazeera article on Thursday, February 28.
"... Nasrallah denied accusations by the Syrian opposition that members of the group were fighting alongside forces loyal to the Assad regime, and reiterated that some Shia [Muslims] in villages along the Lebanese-Syrian border, including Hezbollah members, have taken up arms in self-defense against Sunni gunmen."
James Phillips of The Heritage Foundation said that Islamist opposition leaders inside Syria are currently having the most success because they are getting the most support from other Muslim nations.
According to Phillips, "The longer the conflict persists, the more it boosts the power of Islamist extremists who have played a growing role in the fighting, in part because they have enjoyed the lion’s share of arms provided by private donations from Islamist organizations in the oil-rich Arab gulf states.
"The intensifying conflict has increasingly taken on sectarian overtones, as the predominantly Sunni Muslim opposition struggles to overthrow the Alawite-dominated regime. Tens of thousands of refugees, as well as some of the fighting, have spilled over Syria’s borders and threaten the stability of neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq."
The balance of power among the rebels may shift if the predicted aid is given to other rebel groups.
According to Borger, "The [representative of the Syrian rebels in Britain], Walid Saffour, predicted that by the next meeting of the western and Arab Friends of Syria group in Turkey, due in late spring or early summer, 'there will be a breakthrough that will end the restrictions of the European countries.'
"'This would be for the ammunition we require, the quality weapons we need to deter the Syrian regime from using aeroplanes and Scud missiles to bomb villages and bakeries,' Saffour said. 'We on the ground are advancing steadily but we are suffering from a lack of ammunition. We expect that to change at the next Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul.'"