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 641.

    Aside from the fact that financing the rebels may well amount to supporting a group also guilty of war crimes, the law of unintended consequences must surely suggest against this policy. Furthermore, what even is the intended consequence of supporting the rebels?There doesn't appear to be real clarity that the fall of the Assad regime is in the Syrias or the UK's best interest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.

    Just now
    I'm sure Hague is good for something.

    He could be used as landfill, he is full of garbage after all. I struggle to think of anything else though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    It is in our interests to back the moderate Islamists against the jihadists.
    True representative democracy in the Middle East states means Islamic parties in their parliaments and their government.
    You can not expect Western style, essentially secular governments to appear overnight.
    The transition from authoritarianism to democracy is not easy, just look at Russia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 638.

    If I start a civil war, can I get money from the British government too?

    Here's a thought: Maybe the British government should focus on domestic issues--you know, like unemployment, healthcare, immigration, reforming your discredited financial system...

  • rate this

    Comment number 637.

    I'm going to inject some much needed sense into this HYS.

    The people that have made this decision were voted into position by ourselves.

    The problem lies in accountability. It's not a question of "will this do the right thing for Syria", but "will someone be accountable for making the wrong decision if it does not".

    The public make's it's decision at each general election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 636.

    Oh f f s, we've actually given them some money?

  • rate this

    Comment number 635.

    The amount of money involved is trivial and I'll always support giving humanitarian aid wherever it is needed, I do question the moral legitimacy of supporting the FSA. This is a radical Islamic group which wants to deprive Christians (10% of Syria's population) of their most basic civil rights. Whilst I deplore the tactics used by Assad, allowing him to stay in power should not be ruled out.

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 633.

    I echo many of the views on this site. These guys better win and be a British ally or we've made a really big mistake. Its one we've made many times in the past and caused us a lot of problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    £5m - how many operations in UK hospitals would that pay for? How many local support centres would that keep open? How many schools would love some of that £5m?

    Recession? - clearly not as bad as we think if we can fund oversea troubles over our own issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    @488 Lehig76

    Ah, the FSA, the Fundamentally Supine Authority - Clever sir, very clever!

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    The only media opinions people can trust on Syria are voices like Kofi Annan and the red cross - ALL of which lay the blame on Assad and his regime.

    We are being witness to a slow and brutal genocide. This confilict didnt come out of western intervention - it started with a democratic protest agaisnt a police state. Have people forgotten that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    I'm sure Hague is good for something.

    I'm such a liar.

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    Excuse me - Isn't it about time they started spending this money on the UK?
    No offense to Syria, but I did not choose for your country to start this conflict - and neither did my family. For that matter Neither did the homeless here, or as far as I know any of the voters. So why are OUR taxes being given away to yet another country? Cameron and Co STOP STEALING OUR MONEY!

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    613. Lewes53 JUST NOW

    Israel wishes Syria destabilised,

    Do they? And why? Got any proof or is it just because Israel and the Jews are behind a global conspiracy? In league with Saudi Arabia....

    And don't just blame little Hague, if Milibands lot were in power, they would back the rebels and send money as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    The UK is not in a position to send funds. Can we be sure this money will aid the intended cause. It may be used against us. We have many conflicts on a daily basis, Police funding slashed, we suffer inflated premiums to insure property etc.

    We are in a mess, morally and financially, concentrate on what is happening in your own back yard before you worry about what is happening over the fence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    this is disgraceful, we should be finding ways to get out of the middle east & leave these people alone not handing them cash for fighting we have caused far to much pain and death for these people to forgive us, would you if the rolls were reversed, if somebody gave the IRA cash when they were at war with the UK we would have been screaming blue murder, anyway this group is linked to al-Qaeda???

  • Comment number 624.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    It's annoying that our government is freely giving our money away without us having any say in the matter! Syria is an Arab nation so any funding should come from the Arab League including humanitarian aid, why should be down to the UK to provide for the rest of the World? Also we are skint so they keep telling us so where did the £27.5 million come from? Amazing isn't it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    I guess the ministers' expense accounts will need tightening up to fund the £5M fund for prolonging the unrest.


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