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As death and destruction continue unchecked in Syria, there have been increasing calls from some quarters for a more active policy of support for the secularist opposition on the part of Western governments, especially since the interventions of some regional actors are said to be having a strong influence on the conflict, favouring Islamist forces and the Syrian Government.

The EU arms embargo was lifted at the end of May 2013, meaning that the transfer of arms, subject to certain conditions, could be legal under EU law. Questions of law, both UK and international, remain, however.

• Arming the rebels could be seen as an illegal use of force, contrary to Article 2(4) of the UN Charter

• It could be said to be a breach of the principle of non-intervention, also set out in the UN Charter

• It is unlikely but not impossible that the UK would be culpable for any human rights abuses committed by others with UK-supplied weapons

• The Arms Trade Treaty, which the UK signed in June 2013, will probably not change the situation much when it comes into force, but it does require States to abide by their other international commitments, such as those in the UN Charter

• Any transfer would have to be judged against the UK arms export control rules, which impose significant conditions on applications to send weapons. Crown immunity would apply to government gifts but, in theory, these would still have to comply with the arms export criteria

• It has been suggested that sending arms to Syria could be interpreted as a criminal offence under UK anti-terrorist legislation but there are a number of obstacles to establishing this in court

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