March 26, 2013 / 6:09 PM / 6 years ago

Summit says Arab states have right to arm Syria rebels

Heads of Arab states gather for a group photo during the opening of the Arab League summit in Doha March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

DOHA (Reuters) - An Arab summit agreed on Tuesday that Arab League member states had the right to provide military support to Syrians fighting President Bashar al-Assad, according to a draft declaration obtained by Reuters.

The summit, meeting in the Gulf state of Qatar, urged regional and international organizations to recognize the opposition National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, the draft said.

While it has diplomatic significance, the summit’s draft language on arming the rebels may not have immediate practical implications for Arab policymakers: Arab states are not subject to the European Union and U.S. arms embargoes on Syria, and many therefore consider themselves at liberty to supply the rebels with weapons.

While noting that reaching a political solution was a priority in ending the Syrian crisis, the summit “affirms every state’s right, according to its desire, to present all kinds of measures for self-defense, including military ones, to support the steadfastness of the Syrian people and the Free Army,” the draft document said.

The summit has been dominated by the two-year-old war in Syria, which has cost an estimated 70,000 lives.

Reporting by Yara Bayoumy, Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Michael Roddy

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