Syria conflict: UK to give extra £5m to opposition groups

 

Hague: "Aid would include medical supplies, communications equipment and body armour"

Foreign Secretary William Hague says the UK's commitment of an extra £5m in non-lethal equipment to Syrian opposition groups is "the right thing to do" and will "help save lives".

The help for unarmed opposition members will include medical supplies and radio and satellite equipment.

But it will not include weapons and is in addition to £27.5m humanitarian aid.

The BBC's James Robbins says the move is a significant shift in policy after frustration about Syria's opposition.

Aside from concerns about divisions within the opposition, there have also been complaints that it has failed to set out a clear programme for good government, our correspondent added.

Speaking at a press conference, Mr Hague said the funding would go to "unarmed opposition groups, human rights activists and civilians" and that Britain was speaking to people from the political arm of the Free Syrian Army, an armed rebel group which is opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

Attempts to oust President Assad have led to 17 months of unrest, during which activists claim more than 20,000 people have died.

However, reports of casualties often cannot be independently verified.

'Terrible conflict'

The UK is also telling opposition forces they must observe human rights standards.

Syrian people need "urgent help" and "cannot wait indefinitely" for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, Mr Hague said, describing them as being at the "mercy of a regime that is hunting down its opponents".

The UN Security Council, which meets again at the end of this month, has a responsibility to "stop the bloodshed", he said.

More medical supplies and communications gear for the civilian opposition in Syria should help to save lives but may not significantly alter the course of the fighting.

There will be body armour too for key activists. But William Hague underlined again that this would go to the civil opposition rather than military fighters. Such a distinction may not always be so easy to maintain.

Britain has shifted its ground - it is now willing to talk to people close to the Free Syrian Army - a tacit admission that to have any influence you have to have lines of communication with the key players involved.

A diplomatic solution to the crisis though is as distant as ever. There will be another UN Security Council meeting at the end of this month.

And Britain's stepped-up civil assistance is clearly a signal to Russia and China - who in Mr Hague's view have blocked concerted UN action - that, as he put it, the world does not stand still.

Mr Hague said the money "will help people caught up in a terrible conflict. It will be delivered in co-ordination with other countries. It is the right thing to do, while not pausing for a second in our efforts to secure the united robust diplomatic action which this crisis demands."

The money will be spent on medical supplies such as trauma kits, surgical equipment, medicines and water purification and to assist local doctors with the means to gather forensic evidence for any potential trials in future.

The communications equipment includes mobile and satellite phones and radar equipment. The Foreign Office says it will help protect activists overcome the Syrian government's jamming and blocking techniques.

The foreign secretary added that body armour would be provided for civilians who were involved in the protection of others.

Mr Hague, who has also described the Assad regime as "doomed", said it remains British policy not to send arms to Syria.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says the UK has been quite vocal at the UN but reluctant to get involved on the ground in Syria.

But the latest announcement is a realisation that the situation will continue to get worse if it does nothing, he added.

Military support

Former British foreign secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, says the government should be doing more in Syria.

"The way in which you have to act is to actually take the very difficult decision of providing military support to the insurgents," he said.

"That way you may enhance the conflict in the short term, in the longer term you're more likely to save thousands of lives."

Free Syrian Army members are pictured on a truck as they prepare to move into a district of Aleppo The extra practical support for the opposition FSA will include more radio and satellite equipment

The UK had previously made £1.4m available in "non-lethal support to the political opposition" in Syria which included training and assistance to human rights groups.

The £27.5m in humanitarian aid is for food, medical care, water sanitation and shelter in Syria, as well as for Syrian refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell had announced this week that the amount of assistance being given to the refugees was being quadrupled.

It follows on from £18.4m in UK humanitarian assistance to Libya during the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi last year. This included supplying shelter for both refugees and those made homeless, supporting mine clearance and also helping the World Health Organization to provide medical care.

 

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  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 863.

    Something for those who think that we should be taking sides in Syria should ponder on.What is happening in Syria today is very like the situation in Germany in the early 1930s when the Nazis and the communists used violence to polarise society.Neither side then deserved our support,and neither side now deserves it.It's the people caught in the middle of it that we must support and protect.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 840.

    How can we send money to fund a war we're not involved in?! It's small change but this has nothing to do with us.

  • rate this
    +34

    Comment number 634.

    As sad as it is to see the people of Syria being killed by their own, i just wish Britain would stay out of it, We get no thanks for the help we give and quite rightly none for the interfering we always seem to do, we cant afford to either .

  • rate this
    +70

    Comment number 424.

    Where does a country with billions in debt get an extra £5 million to send abroad? Working for the NHS, this would pay for a substantial number of nurses and doctors to look after those paying the tax to fund this handout. Instead we're continually cutting costs to a bare minimum which will have an affect on patient care.

  • rate this
    +47

    Comment number 176.

    If we are to send anything at all, it should be in the form of what is desperately needed, such as medicines, bandages & medical equipment, food etc., and definitely not cash.

    Will our governments never learn? Whatever future regime runs Syria will probably be far more radically opposed to the UK than Assad's dictatorship - with our help. Brilliant.

 

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