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EU Diplomats Weigh Adjusting Syrian Arms Embargo to Help Rebels

Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- European foreign ministers debated proposals to ease an arms embargo against Syria to strengthen rebel forces while tightening economic sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was scheduled to hold a news conference at 4 p.m. in Brussels to report on today’s meeting in Brussels. U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague advocated amending the embargo to support the Syrian National Coalition led by Moaz al-Khatib.

“I’m sure there will be an agreement on restrictive measures on Syria,” Ashton told reporters before joining the foreign ministers. “The question we have to debate is to ensure that we’ve got the right format.”

Fighting between forces loyal to Assad and rebels who want to end his family’s rule over Syria has left almost 70,000 people dead in almost two years of conflict, 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 al-Khatib, who has called for talks to end the violence.

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.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jones Hayden in Brussels at jhayden1@bloomberg.net; Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at jferziger@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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