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UPDATE 1-Arab League says members free to offer Syria rebels arms

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

(Combines reports, adds quotes, background)

CAIRO, March 6 (Reuters) - Arab states are free to offer military support to rebels fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if they wish, a final statement of Arab League ministers said on Wednesday.

Previously the League had stressed that the Syrian opposition and rebels should be supported by humanitarian and diplomatic means.

However, a final statement issued at the end of a meeting of the ministers in Cairo said they had "stressed the right of each state according to its wishes to offer all types of self defence, including military, to support the resilience of the Syrian people and the Free (Syrian) Army."

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told a news conference that the ministers had invited the opposition Syrian National Coalition - an umbrella body for anti-Assad political and rebel groups - to occupy the seat of Syria at the League.

This was held by Damascus until it was suspended from the organisation in 2011.

The statement called on the coalition to choose a representative to attend a League meeting to be held in Doha on March 26-27.

Qatar has led a push against Damascus in the League, which has been resisted by Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria. These three countries refused to endorse the final document's sections on Syria. (Reporting by Ayman Samir, Yasmine Saleh and Omar Fahmy; editing by David Stamp)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130306/update-1-arab-league-says-members-free-offer-syria-rebels-arms