Germany warns against arming Syria rebels

Germany's foreign minister warned on Thursday that delivering weapons to Syria's rebels could result in an arms race in the region and stressed the EU would send only "defensive" equipment.

In an interview with the Tagesspiegel daily, Guido Westerwelle said the situation in Syria was "shocking" and said Berlin would do everything it could to contribute to a political solution "despite all the difficulties."

But he cautioned against arming rebels attempting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, after the chief of staff of the rebel Free Syrian Army said they could bring down the regime "in a month" with the right weaponry.

"Delivering weapons always involves the danger of an arms race and slipping into a proxy war that could push the whole region into a broader conflict," Westerwelle warned.

He said Germany and the EU should do "everything responsible" to assist the rebels in their struggle but emphasised that this did not just mean "military questions" but also help in building infrastructure and health systems.

"We are talking about non-lethal equipment, for example defensive objects such as protective vests," he said.

On Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warned that one million Syrians have fled their homeland since the revolt erupted two years ago.

And the United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed since the start of the uprising.