Syria conflict: Here come the weapons?

New arms may be headed to Syria in coming months as Britain reviews legal options for supplying weapons to rebels and Turkey talks to NATO about Patriot interceptors.

Mustafa Karali/AP
In this Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012 photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter fires his weapon while running for cover in the Bab al-Nasr district of Aleppo, Syria.

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The Syrian conflict could be set for an influx of arms in the coming months, as Britain is reviewing its legal options for supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels despite an EU arms embargo on the conflict, and Turkey is in discussions with NATO to deploy Patriot missile interceptors along its southern border.

The Guardian reports that British Prime Minister David Cameron, recently returned from a trip to the Middle East that included a stop at a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, has told government lawyers to investigate the legality of sending weapons to Syria's rebels. Soon after the uprising began, the European Union enacted an arms embargo, forbidding shipments of lethal arms to either side of the conflict. But British officials say the embargo may include exceptions in the case of humanitarian disaster.

The text of the EU embargo, agreed two months after the conflict began, says: "By way of derogation … the competent authorities in the member states … may authorise the sale, supply, transfer or export of equipment which might be used for internal repression, under such conditions as they deem appropriate, if they determine that such equipment is intended solely for humanitarian or protective use."

Cameron made clear he believes that stage may have been reached after he visited the refugee camp, where 110,000 Syrians are sheltering. "I think what I have seen and heard today is truly appalling," said. "I think [with] a re-elected president [Obama] with a new mandate … it's really important to discuss what more we can do to help resolve the situation."

The Guardian notes that President Bashar al-Assad's regime is reportedly being supplied with weapons by Russia and Iran, while the West has been bound to only supply non-lethal aid to the rebels under the embargo.

And as Britain debates arming the rebels, reports indicate that Turkey is talking with NATO about deploying Patriot missiles along Turkey's border with Syria. Agence France-Presse reports that Turkish President Abdullah Gul confirmed that discussions about the interceptors were taking place, and said that "It is only natural for us to take any measure for defense reasons."

Although the deployment of Patriots to Turkey could "add a new dimension" to the Syrian crisis, according to Today's Zaman, the US-built system could not be used offensively, according to the US State Department. During a daily press conference Wednesday, a reporter asked State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland whether the Patriots could be the start of a no-fly zone in Syria, but she denied that they could be used toward that end. "It’s not a missile. It’s an interceptor for missiles," she said.

On the no-fly zone itself, you know that we’ve been saying for quite a while we continue to study whether that makes sense, how it might work. With regard to the question of Patriot missiles in Turkey, we’ve talked about this before. Patriot is a defensive system. It’s responsible for knocking down incoming missiles, so its purpose would be to defend the territory of Turkey.

"...Unless there is something being shot in your direction, it has no purpose. It doesn’t have a warhead on it," she added.

Ankara's contemplation of a further buildup along its border comes as fighting in Syria again spilled over into Turkey. Reuters reports that two Turkish civilians were injured by stray gunfire in the border town of Celyanpinar. The bullets reportedly were fired during a battle between rebels and Assad troops in the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain.

Similarly, along the Israeli-Syrian border, The Jerusalem Post reports that three Syrian mortar shells landed in Israeli territory Thursday, though they caused no injuries, according to Israeli radio. The shells were misfires from fighting between rebel and regime factions, officials said.

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