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

    Comment number 1021.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, an experienced US foreign policy theorist, former US national security advisor, explained very well why any attack on Iran (Syria toppling is just a step toward that) would be a disaster for the entire region and the US above all.

    find the interview on youtube or anywhere else

  • rate this

    Comment number 1020.

    Qatar and Saudi Arabia, absolute monarchies, are supporting the rebels.

    They are not supporting a new democracy - their regimes are no better than Assad's, and a great deal more medieval in some respects.

    I don't hear Hague condemning the Qatari or Saudi regimes.

    No one can argue that this is for democracy - or humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1019.

    PiggyLover62 @ 980 said:

    "That's dynamite!

    But, as you say, difficult to slot into the current situation.

    I can see why the US, Israel and the UK are keen to find it.

    Maybe Assad sold it Iran?

    Makes you wonder about Dr Kelly's premature death as well.

    Poor man."

    = = = = = = =

    A lot of secrets died with Dr. Kelly

    If Assad is deposed then maybe he will shed some light on it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1018.

    1012 Rebecca Riot - I think you'll find Russia and China have been pushing for peace and to prevent further escalation of the conflict that is being funded by the UK and US...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1017.

    The problem with freedom fighters is they are 'war heroes' so to speak. So if they were to topple the Assad regime they would still be in 'war hero mode' for a suspended duration of their life e.g. farc in Columbia. The U.K government did the same thing with African countries its only in more recent times that they realise that the officials were far to corrupt to trust with money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1016.

    Nostalgia Yugoslavia war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1015.

    Hmm, the UN confirmed that the conflict was indeed a civil war.They have to learn to walk on their own, to want freedom so badly. They will never fully appreciate freedom when it's handed down to them by other nations. It just makes them more rebellious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1014.

    Sectarian violence is a notorious trap for colonial and ex colonial powers alike. Given our experiences around the world, I would think that caution should prevail at this time. Humanitarian aid can be channelled through multiple NGO's and charities. Why oh why are we picking sides in this most complex of disputes, especially when fundamentalists and religious extremists are the likely victors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1013.

    " take legal action against the UK government if it fails to explain why it has not restricted the export of British surveillance technologies to repressive regimes, including Iran, Egypt and Syria." - Privacy International, 2012.

    And now the hypocrites are prepared to send aid to the oppressed. Typical action from a government that butters its bread on both sides.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1012.

    The cause of the civil war is the Assad family and their close circle hording stolen money for their own enrichment. And now they are fighting to hold on to their stolen wealth. Thirty years of regime to pile up a fortune

    regime Russia and regime China should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for supporting and supplying this greedy mis-behaviour

  • Comment number 1011.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1010.

    What are we giving money away to fund foreign armys when we can even equip our own army.

    Haven't we learnt anything, over the last 10 years, as they will end up hating us anyway

  • rate this

    Comment number 1009.

    The Olympics is allowing us to show a better face. Getting involved in any way with other's conflicts makes us seem like the same old "colonial power". There is no evidence that the "rebels" would form a government that looks after the common Syrian person anymore than the current. Isn't it about time we stopped meddling in geo-politics and concentrated on things nearer to home?

  • Comment number 1008.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1007.

    Give money to an army for peaceful means? Do me a favour! It is increasingly looking like Al Qaeda are taking hold of the "opposition". Your trusted Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is nothing more than a man who has opposed Assad for years, lives in the UK and takes calls from allies in Syria - they have no credibility, like your foreign policy. Arm terrorists and it's be used against us.

  • Comment number 1006.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1005.

    I wonder what the UK Government would have said if Syria had given money and aid to the IRA in the 70s & 80s?

    (I'm guessing it's different though, because the Syrian Govt are the baddies?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1004.

    994 Sid: By all means we should help!...

    But how does giving money to 'the rebels' constitute help?

    The cause of the majority of the human suffering in Syria is at the moment due to the present civil war. So, to 'help', we should try to speed the war to a conclusion. This would presumably be most easily done by aiding the existing government, supply weapons, training and experienced soldiers.

  • Comment number 1003.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1002.

    China and Russia have been made out as concocting a deal with the devil when all they've gone for is neutrality which is what we should be doing.
    Whatever happened to the BBC which would report fairly on news? Do they not realised they're being used for rebel propaganda? Tell us what is REALLY happening before you pass judgement on Assad.


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