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EU to allow arms deliveries for Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State

BRUSSELS -- European Union governments cleared the way Friday for arming Kurdish forces to help them take on Islamic State militants in Iraq and said they'll look for ways to block oil sales by the insurgents.

With France already sending weapons to Kurdish fighters, or peshmergas, in northern Iraq, the 28 EU foreign ministers at an emergency meeting bridged reservations in Germany and other countries by agreeing to let governments deliver hardware according to their "capabilities and national laws."

"The aim must be to halt the murderous actions and the military advance" of the Islamic State, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters after the meeting in Brussels. Ministers backed the idea "that individual countries will respond positively to requests for support by security forces in the Kurdistan region," he said.

EU governments' resolve to step up their joint response may open the door to a broader counteroffensive against Islamic State. The regional threat posed by the extremists has led thousands of minority Yazidis and Christians to flee their advance, prompting U.S. airstrikes and other military action to aid the refugees.

The world has been shocked by the brutality and speed of the group's advance, Steinmeier said.

"It's time to do more," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told reporters before the talks. "We have to support those who are threatened, especially the Kurds in the north. Some military assistance also should be discussed."

Seeking to dry up funding for the insurgents and citing "our common fight against terrorism," the ministers also agreed to "assess how to prevent . . . [the Islamic State] benefiting from oil sales," according to a joint EU statement after the meeting.

EU members in Eastern Europe are best-placed to supply weapons since Kurdish forces are used to using Soviet-era hardware, Steinmeier said. Even so, there's "no clear analysis" among EU governments of what kind of equipment is needed, he said.

Iraq's political and humanitarian crisis is surging onto the agenda as Europe struggles to maintain pressure on President Vladimir Putin to end the armed conflict in Ukraine that's caused the worst standoff with Russia since the Cold War.

The fragile cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, escalating violence in Libya and the Ebola outbreak were also on the agenda.

"This is a crisis meeting in a crisis summer," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said. "We have a volatile international environment, to put it mildly, even a dangerous international environment, which puts great demands on the European Union."

"Let's be honest: Humanitarian aid alone isn't enough," Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said. "So I fear there won't be any way around arms deliveries."

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