Britain has not 'closed off' option of arming Syrian rebels, says Defence Secretary Philip Hammond

 

Britain has "never closed off" the option of arming the Syrian rebels, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said.

He spoke after the US government said it was rethinking its opposition to arming rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad's regime.

American defence secretary Chuck Hagel said arming the Syrian opposition was "always an option".

Dozens of people, including women and children, were killed yesterday by regime forces in Bayda, a village near the Mediterranean coast, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The debate over how to bring an end to the Syrian conflict has intensified over recent days as Britain has found "very persuasive" evidence of the use of chemical weapons in the conflict.

But concerns remain over Islamist elements among the opposition and the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict.

Mr Hammond said the Government may decide to take stronger action after the European arms embargo expires at the end of this month.

Last night he told BBC2's Newsnight: "The Americans have said today that they are rethinking whether to supply weapons to the opposition.

"We have never closed off that option.

"We currently have a European arms embargo which expires at the end of May, we haven't yet decided what approach we are going to take to any renewal or modification of that embargo.

"But we want to keep all our options open as we work out the best way to deal with this despicable regime which is slaughtering its people by the thousands."

The Defence Secretary said that the Government would need "incontrovertible" evidence of the use of chemical weapons if they were to be part of an international response.

He said "ideally" that such a response should be taken through the United Nations Security Council.

"We've certainly got some very persuasive evidence (of the use of chemical weapons)," he said.

"But if we set ourselves the test of whether this evidence would be persuasive in a UK or a US court, we still don't have evidence of that quality.

"Given the experience we have had both in the UK and the US in relation to the Iraq war and the evidence that was presented to support our intervention there, I think it is very clear that our publics would expect us to leave no stone unturned in establishing that the evidence is compelling and conclusive before we take any further action."

A No 10 spokeswoman said: "We continue to seek changes to the EU arms embargo so that we have the flexibility to do more in the future if necessary.

"Those discussions are continuing in Brussels.

"As the PM has said, we think those changes are necessary because there is currently stalemate and our current approach is not working.

"We need to find ways to put more pressure on the regime so that we can advance a political transition in the country but it's important to be clear that we have not taken any decision to arm the opposition."

AP

News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
His band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science Teacher Urgently required for October start

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

ICT Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Art & Design Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Assistant Management Accountant -S/West London - £30k - £35k

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: We are working with an exciting orga...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering