BRUSSELS - The European Union on Wednesday decided to suspend exports of weapons and goods that could be used for internal repression but did not halt aid programs for fear of hurting ordinary Egyptians already hit hard.
Instead, the 28 EU foreign ministers called on the military authorities and the supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement to resume negotiations to avoid further bloodshed.
"It was decided . . . to suspend all arms deliveries that can be used internally," said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius following the emergency meeting in Brussels. "We have decided to maintain our aid for the Egyptian population because it already suffers enormously," he added.
Clashes between Egyptian security forces and Morsi's supporters have killed hundreds of people since last week.
"We do believe that the recent operations of the security forces have been disproportionate and we're worried about the resulting alarming number of people that have been killed," said the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
"We call on all sides to stop the cycle of violence, to stop the provocations, to stop the hate speech," she said, adding that the EU "strongly condemns" the recent violence.
While the EU lacks the military muscle and long-standing ties that give the U.S. a special position in dealing with Cairo, the EU is Egypt's biggest trading partner and a major source of aid, loans and tourists. The EU and its member states last year pledged a combined 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in loans and aid for Egypt.
The bloc's decision to suspend some export licenses falls short of a full weapons embargo, but many member states including Germany and Britain have already suspended new exports to Egypt.
EU ministers shied away from more radical steps such as cutting aid programs right away or imposing economic sanctions, hoping to maintain its political leverage as a broker in the crisis by continuing to talk to both sides in Egypt, who are less suspicious of the EU than of the U.S.
Ashton was the first international dignitary whom Egypt's military-backed interim government allowed to meet Morsi in detention. Still, a joint meditation effort with the U.S. failed, leading to last week's bloody crackdown on Morsi's supporters.
"Doing too much would risk upsetting completely the current power in Egypt, but not doing enough risks corroborating this vision of a Europe that is extremely cynical," Elena Aoun, professor of international relations at Brussels University, said before the meeting.