Hague: Giving arms to Syrian rebels cannot be ruled out

  • 3 March 2013
  • From the section UK
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Media captionWilliam Hague: "You can reach the point eventually where humanitarian need is so great... that you have to do something new in order to save lives"

Britain cannot rule out providing arms to the Syrian opposition in the future, Foreign Secretary William Hague says.

The situation in Syria now is "too dangerous to the peace and security of that entire region, and thereby to the world, to ignore it", he said.

His words come after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Britain in the Sunday Times of bullying and naivety over the conflict in his country.

Mr Hague described Mr Assad's interview as "delusional".

About 70,000 people have been killed in the Syrian uprising that started almost two years ago. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled to neighbouring countries.

The foreign secretary is due to announce to Parliament this week an aid package to assist those fighting against the Syrian government.

Speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr programme, Mr Hague said the package would be given "directly to the opposition" and would include "more equipment to help save lives".

He added that he would not be announcing a provision of arms this week, but he could not "rule anything out for the future".

"If this is going to go on for months or years and more, tens of thousands of people are going to die, and countries like Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan are going to be destabilised, it is not something we can ignore."

In his interview, Mr Assad dismissed any suggestion that Britain could help to resolve the conflict.

"We do not expect an arsonist to be a firefighter," he said.

"To be frank, Britain has played a famously unconstructive role in our region on different issues for decades, some say for centuries... The problem with this government is that their shallow and immature rhetoric only highlights this tradition of bullying and hegemony...

"How can we ask Britain to play a role while it is determined to militarise the problem? How can we expect them to make the violence less while they want to send military supplies to the terrorists?"

In response to Mr Assad's comments, Mr Hague said the Syrian president was a man "presiding over this slaughter".

He added: "The message to him is that we, Britain, are the people sending food and shelter and blankets to the help the people driven from their homes and families in his name.

"We're the people sending medical supplies to try and look after people injured and abused by soldiers working for this man.

"I think this will go down as one of the most delusional interviews that any national leader has given in modern times."

Humanitarian aid

Mr Hague said agreements were made in the European Union last week on a series of amendments to the arms embargo which now allowed the UK to send a wider range of "non-lethal equipment" to Syria.

In response to being asked if this included military equipment, Mr Hague told the BBC's Sophie Raworth: "We can now send more."

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said they would be "adding to the assistance, to the equipment that we provide to help the opposition, to help the National Coalition".

The spokeswoman said the assistance so far included "training on political strategy, communications, gaining evidence of human rights abuses and training for journalists in reporting".

Assistance also included providing communications equipment, water purification equipment and power generators.

Separately the Department for International Development has so far provided £139.5m in humanitarian aid to Syria which includes food packages, blankets, clothing and medical aid.

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