UK will supply armoured vehicles to Syrian opposition forces 'in bid to end humanitarian crisis'

The supplies will personal protection equipment including body armour to help opposition figures being killed by Government forces

Britain is to supply armoured vehicles and body protection to the Syrian opposition for the first time as part of a significant up scaling of support for anti-Assad forces.

William Hague announced that he had ordered “more active efforts” to assist the opposition after securing a relaxation of an EU arms embargo to allow the provision of non-lethal military equipment to protect civilians.

The supplies will include armoured four-wheel drive vehicles to help opposition figures being killed by Government forces and personal protection equipment including body armour.

Testing equipment to look for evidence of any use of chemical weapons by the regime and training for armed groups in international human rights and legal standards is also being sent.

The Foreign Secretary added that £3 million had been allocated this month for the work with another £10 million to follow - urging other countries to do the same.

“The Cabinet is in no doubt that this is a necessary, proportionate and lawful response to a situation of extreme humanitarian suffering, and that there is no practicable alternative,” he said.

“All our assistance will be carefully calibrated and monitored as well as legal, and will be aimed at saving life, alleviating this human catastrophe and supporting moderate groups.“

“(The help) will certainly include, for instance, armoured four-wheel drive vehicles to help opposition figures move around more freely, as well as personal protection equipment including body armour.”

At least 10,000 people have been killed in the civil war in the last two months according to Government estimates - more than in the whole of the first year since uprisings were suppressed in 2011.

The number in need of humanitarian help inside the country has quadrupled to four million over the past 12 months - almost a fifth of the population - with a million seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.

He said he would hold talks in London with his Russian counterpart next week in a bid to secure support for a diplomatic solution - warning that Assad believed he would count on being ”shielded“ at the United Nations.

Russia and China have consistently vetoed Security Council resolutions critical of the regime.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: “The primary responsibility for the violence in Syria firmly rests on President Assad's shoulders, but the on-going humanitarian crisis represents an abject failure of the international community to act decisively and collectively.

”Syria today is replete with arms. The priority for the British Government should be to work to unify the Syrian opposition, not to arm it.“

Earlier, International Development Secretary Justine Greening warned that women and girls risk becoming the ”forgotten victims“ of the crisis.

Around two-thirds of those caught up in the exodus are women and children, the majority of which are under the age of 11, aid agencies suggest.

Ms Greening called today for international donors to deliver the humanitarian help they have pledged.

”One million refugees is a terrible landmark and the most vulnerable groups are inevitably those who find themselves at greatest risk,“ she said.

”Syria's neighbours cannot deal with this alone and all donors must rapidly deliver on the promises they made in Kuwait.

She spoke as the UN's refugee agency said more than 400,000 Syrians have left their homes since January, with the number registered as refugees or receiving assistance topping one million.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said Syria was now “spiralling towards full-scale disaster”.

According to UN data, most refugees have escaped to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, with Syrians increasingly fleeing to North Africa and Europe.

Around half of those leaving their homes are young children who have lost relatives and arrive traumatised and without possessions.

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