UK Politics

William Hague says UN veto a 'betrayal' of Syrian people

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Media captionUK Foreign Secretary William Hague says Syria's president heads a "doomed regime as well as a murdering regime"

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has accused China and Russia of "betraying the Syrian people" by vetoing a UN resolution condemning violence there.

Mr Hague said it had been a "grave error" and risked increasing the prospects of civil war in the country.

The UK would increase pressure on the Syrian government through the UN and other bodies, he insisted.

Continuing violence was "appalling" and the government of President Bashar al-Assad was "doomed", he added.

He was speaking as Syrian government forces stepped up their assault on the city of Homs, one of the centres of anti-government protests over the past 11 months.

The Syrian opposition says Saturday's veto by China and Russia of a UN draft resolution condemning the crackdown will encourage the government to act without restraint.

Russia said approving the resolution would be tantamount to taking sides in a civil war.

In a statement to MPs, Mr Hague said the resolution was "reasonable and necessary" - stressing that it had been backed by the Arab League, urged all sides to refrain from violence and neither authorised further sanctions nor military action.

He told MPs: "There is no need to mince words about this. Such vetoes are a betrayal of the Syrian people.

"In deploying them, they have let down the Arab League, they have increased the likelihood of what they wish to avoid in Syria - civil war - and placed themselves on the wrong side of Arab and international opinion."

Mr Hague warned that Syrian government may have "drawn comfort" from the failure of the international community to speak with one voice but that the UK was determined to ratchet up the pressure on the Assad regime.

"This is a doomed regime as well as murdering regime. There is no way it can regain international credibility as well as credibility with its own people."

The US has closed its embassy in Damascus and recalled all diplomatic staff because of security concerns.

Diplomatic efforts

Mr Hague said he had recalled the UK's ambassador to Syria to London for urgent talks and the UK was "reviewing all its options" with regards to its already reduced diplomatic presence in Damascus.

But he stressed there were "advantages" in having people on the ground to better keep track of events.

He said he did not "rule out" recognising opposition forces as the legitimate government of Syria - a process which happened in Libya - but that this would only be done "in concert" with allies in the Middle East and elsewhere.

For Labour, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander expressed his concern that the UN veto would "give the green light" for the Syrian government to step up its attacks on opposition activists.

"Let us all be clear. Responsibility for the death of these innocent people lies at the door of President Assad.

"There is clear agreement across this House and much of the international community that the regime has no future."

But several MPs expressed concerns about where such a resolution might lead, drawing parallels with Libya and Iraq.

Tory MP John Baron said "the regrettable decision to veto was at least, in part, caused by Russia and China believing that western powers had exceeded their mandate under UN resolution 1973 when pursuing regime change in Libya".

And independent MP Denis MacShane warned of the risks of arming opposition groups in Syria, suggesting Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya were "not happy examples to follow" and a "broader strategic approach" was needed in the region.

The UN stopped estimating the death toll in Syria after it passed 5,400 in January, saying it was too difficult to confirm.

President Assad's government says at least 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed fighting "armed gangs and terrorists" and he has warned against any attempts at foreign intervention.