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UK gives £5m in aid to Syria rebels


Britain will expand its support to the Syrian political opposition fighting President Bashar Assad with an extra £5 million of non-lethal practical assistance, the Foreign Secretary William Hague said today.

William Hague said the financial assistance would help protect civilians from "some of the worst of the violence".

He said: "So now in the absence of diplomatic progress, the United Kingdom will do much more. We will expand our support to the Syrian people and the Syrian political opposition with an extra £5 million in non-lethal practical assistance.

"This will help protect unarmed opposition groups, human rights activists, and civilians from some of the worst of the violence.

"This is in addition to, and separate from, our humanitarian assistance."

Speaking at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr Hague said: "We expect that our assistance will include trauma and medical supplies for civilians in areas under regime control and could include items such as paramedic trauma kits, specialist trauma treatment, surgical equipment, field dressings, antibiotics, pain killers and water purification kits to respond to the cutting of fresh water supplies."

Mr Hague said assistance to the opposition would include communications equipment to "help political activists overcome the regime's communications blockade".

The Foreign Secretary said: "It's well recognised that the situation in Syria is an affront to the conscience of humanity."

He said the UN Security Council, which will meet again at the end of this month, had a responsibility to "stop the bloodshed" but added: "The people of Syria cannot wait indefinitely.

"People are dying and are trapped without food and shelter."

Mr Hague said the Syrian people "need urgent help" and so the UK was "greatly increasing" its support for them.

Mr Hague said more training would be provided to support the documentation by Syrian activists of human rights violations and abuses and "to support steps to help Syrian opposition groups to uphold human rights".

He added assistance could also include life saving protective equipment for civilians "to help those carrying out vital work in the crossfire", such as body armour.

But he stressed that Britain would not provide lethal assistance and that all of its support would be "consistent with our laws and values".

"This is assistance that will help save lives, not abandon all Syrians to the mercy of the regime. It will help people caught up in a terrible conflict."

Efforts to achieve a united UN Security Council response - currently blocked by Russia and China - would continue, Mr Hague said.

"We will not pause or rest in trying to seek a diplomatic solution," he said.

Mr Hague refused to say who Britain was speaking to from the political side of the Free Syrian Army.

"I'm not going to name names because these are people who are great enemies of course of the Assad regime, and they would be in danger if we did that," he said.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander cautioned the Government against doing anything that would escalate the violence in Syria.

"Given that Syria has descended into civil war the Government needs to act with real care," he said.

"The international community should be focused on de-escalating the violence in Syria, not escalating it.

"Alongside humanitarian aid for the refugees of this conflict, the Government should be focusing its efforts on better understanding the diverse opposition to Assad and supporting the efforts of the Arab League to unify that opposition around a credible plan for transition."

Amnesty International UK's Syria campaign manager Kristyan Benedict said: "The promise of training for human rights activists and citizen journalists is very welcome, and it will be important that this complements what the UN's own Commission of Inquiry on Syria is already trying to do."

He added that Britain had to be clear with the Syrian opposition that it must not tolerate human rights abuses.

"Practical measures which aim to protect all of Syria's civilians are to be welcomed," he said.

"The UK Government and its partners would be doing a great service to the Syrian people if it helps develop the awareness and mechanisms to ensure the armed opposition leadership make clear to their forces that war crimes and human rights abuses will never be tolerated.

"The UK needs to be crystal clear with the commanders of Syria's armed opposition that they have a duty to prevent war crimes by those under their command."