The UK government has set out the case for lifting or amending the EU arms embargo against the main Syrian opposition group, the National Coalition.

The UK said such a move would strengthen moderate forces in the opposition.

It would put also pressure on the Syrian government to enter negotiations on a political solution, the UK added.

The British arguments came in a discussion paper circulated to other EU member states in Brussels.

Two options

The current EU sanctions regime against Syria, including an arms embargo, ends at the end of the month.

The British document set out two options for changing the current situation, as discussions intensified on how to renew the sanctions regime.

The first option would lift the arms embargo against the Syrian National Coalition completely, which the document said there was a strong argument in favour of.

The second option would see the removal of the words “non-lethal” from a list of exemptions to the embargo, clearing the way for weapons to be sent.

France agrees with the UK that it is time to change the sanctions but other EU countries are anxious that easing the embargo could fuel the conflict.

Respond flexibly

The discussion paper said the EU would need to rigorously assess how any equipment sent to the opposition was used and ensure that it was used for the right reason of protecting civilians.

BBC Europe correspondent Chris Morris, in Brussels, says the British argue that strengthening moderate opposition forces would increase the pressure for a political solution.

It would also allow the EU to respond flexibly to a major escalation in the conflict, such as a chemical weapons attack.

Outside Europe, the US and Russia have agreed to convene an international conference to find a political solution on Syria.

This was welcomed by the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, as “the first hopeful news” on Syria for a long time.

Claims that chemical weapons have been used by both government and opposition forces have not been proved.

More than 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.