Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- European foreign ministers agreed to extend economic sanctions against Syria for another three months while boosting aid to protect civilians from the violence that has wracked the country for two years.
The decision was made at a meeting in Brussels today where the U.K. and France also pushed to amend the sanctions to provide weapons for rebel forces fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
European governments “will actively continue the work under way to assess and review, if necessary, the sanctions regime against Syria in order to support and help the opposition,” the EU said in a statement on its website. The union will “provide greater non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians.”
Fighting between forces loyal to Assad and rebels who want to end his family’s rule in Syria has left almost 70,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. The EU imposed sanctions against Syria in 2011. The U.K. and France introduced the proposals to alter the weapons embargo so the rebels can be better armed.
Assad’s government indicated last week that it’s ready to meet with Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition who has called for talks to end the violence.
The president told a Lebanese delegation during a meeting in Damascus that he’s confident his army will defeat the foreign-backed rebels, according to the Lebanese Assafir newspaper.
“We are certain the future is ours,” the newspaper quoted Assad as saying. “Syria has the willpower to defeat the conspiracy, we are reassured by the political and military developments.”
A UN panel found the conflict is becoming increasingly sectarian with both sides “significantly more radicalized and militarized.” In its latest report, based on interviews with 445 people, the UN’s Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria said the human-rights situation has deteriorated since July amid an escalation in fighting.
Government forces and allied militiamen have committed crimes against humanity, torture, rape, kidnappings, war crimes and gross violations of human rights, the commission said. While rebels have also committed war crimes including murder, torture and hostage-taking, it said the government’s violations have been worse.
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