Hague backs Syria peacekeeping force


Plans to send a joint United Nations and Arab League peacekeeping force in to Syria must be discussed “urgently”, Foreign Secretary William Hague said today.

Following yesterday's Arab League meeting, Mr Hague said he welcomed the establishment of the Group of Friends of Syria, which is expected to include exiled opposition leaders.

But he said any peacekeeping force could only be sent in once President Bashar Assad had ended his brutal military crackdown against civilians.

In a statement, Mr Hague said: “We will discuss urgently with the Arab League and our international partners the proposals for a joint AL/UN peacekeeping force.

“Such a mission could have an important role to play in saving lives, providing the Assad regime ends the violence against civilians, withdraws its forces from towns and cities and establishes a credible ceasefire.”

Mr Hague said "significant steps" were taken at yesterday's Arab League meeting to increase the "diplomatic and economic isolation" faced by the Syrian regime.

He said the UK would play a "very active part" in the new Group of Friends of Syria, which has been established to increase political and financial support to opposition leaders in Syria. The group will meet on February 24.

Mr Hague added: "President Assad must be in no doubt of the determination of his neighbours and the international community to bring an end to the violence in Syria.

"The Arab League could not have sent a clearer message to Syria than the one it sent yesterday and we look forward to working closely with them in the coming days and weeks."

Yesterday, Saudi Arabian foreign minister Saud Al-Faisal conveyed the League's frustration with Syria by telling delegates it was no longer appropriate for the League to stand by and watch the bloodshed in Syria.

"Until when will we remain spectators?" he said.

The Arab League has been at the forefront of regional efforts to end 11 months of bloodshed in Syria but President Assad's regime is unlikely to accept any peacekeeping force.

It put forward a plan that President Assad agreed to in December, then sent in monitors to check whether the Syrian regime was complying.

But when it became clear that the Assad regime was flouting the terms of the agreement and killings went on, the League pulled the observers out last month.

The Group of Friends of Syria, which includes the United States and its European allies, was set up after last weekend's veto at the UN by Russia and China of a Western and Arab draft resolution which would have pressured President Assad to step down.

The League wants to provide the opposition groups with political and material support. It calls for a halt to diplomatic contact with Syria and for referring officials responsible for crimes against the Syrian people to international criminal tribunals.