Auteur: Andrew Rettman
BRUSSELS - EU countries are free to ship arms to Syria from 1 June onward in an ugly compromise after 14 hours of talks in Brussels.
The deal is to see all other sanctions - including visa bans, asset freezes and a prohibition on buying oil from regime-linked firms - extended for one year.
It comes with a political declaration that nobody will deliver weapons "at this stage."
It also comes with a promise to send arms "for the protection of civilians" only.
But it does not hide the fact that from June each of the 27 member states will create its own Syria arms rules because they could not agree a joint approach on the issue.
The talks saw a clash between British foreign minister William Hague and Austria's Michael Spindelegger.
France supported the UK, but took a back seat when its minister left early for another meeting in Paris.
Hague told press afterward: "I am very pleased … We have brought an end to the EU arms embargo on the opposition."
He said: "This decision gives us the flexibility in future to respond to a worsening situation or the refusal of the [Syrian leader's] Assad regime to negotiate."
When asked how to ensure weapons do not get into the hands of Islamic extremists, he added: "We would only take the step of sending arms in concert with other nations, in carefully controlled circumstances and in compliance with international law."
Spindelegger branded the outcome a failure.
He said Britain's tough negotiating style was "deplorable" and "annoying."
He noted that most ministers had wanted to keep the arms ban in place for now but to review the decision in August.
He also said the EU is a "peace organisation" but if countries start to take sides in civil wars it will "fundamentally" alter the nature of EU foreign policy.
For her part, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton tried to paper over the crack in the EU facade.
She said: "There is a strong spirit of trying to find a European solution … Each individual [country] is trying to find a way to best support the Syrian people."
But Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans gave a more frank assessment.
He noted: "We were risking not having any sanctions by the end of the day. So, I am counting my blessings. At least 90 percent of the sanctions are still there."
Outside the EU, Turkey and the US earlier voiced support for arming rebels while Russia opposed the move.
Meanwhile, analysts pointed to potential complications if France and the UK go ahead.
Axel Dyevre from French private intelligence firm Ceis told EUobserver if they ship modern surface-to-air or anti-tank missiles they will also have to send soldiers to train rebels how to use them.
Robert Baer, a former CIA officer in the Middle East who now writes on security issues for Time magazine, said any country which intervenes in Syria risks getting bogged down for years.
"When has it ever been wise to intervene in a civil war? This is the mother of all civil wars," he noted.
"The best thing to do is to let them bleed it out. That's what happened in Lebanon. The Lebanese got tired of killing each other with no reward for their pain. That's where the Syria conflict is heading," he added, referring to the 1975-1990 Lebanon war.