Hague hints at harder line if regime shuns Syria peace plan

Foreign Secretary says UN resolution may allow 'further measures' if Assad ignores ceasefire


Bashar al-Assad's regime is flouting the Kofi Annan plan for ending the violence in Syria and punitive action can be taken if it is in breach of the United Nations resolution on the crisis, William Hague declared yesterday amid rising calls for intervention in the country.

As an international meeting of the "Friends of Syria" states took place in Paris, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused the regime, which yesterday agreed a deal outlining rules for the deployment of observers to monitor Mr Annan's ceasefire plan, of failing to show it was committed to peace. He also called for an expanded mission of at least 300 observers – 50 more than the regime has said it will accept – to monitor violations of the ceasefire. Only a small advance team of observers is currently in the country.

At the same time, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, claimed that a humanitarian corridor was now imperative. He accused President Assad of "lying shamelessly" and "trying to wipe Homs off the map just like Gaddafi wanted to raze Benghazi from the map".

Speaking at a Nato meeting in Brussels, Mr Hague said that "for the first time in 15 months we have a security resolution that sets out what they need to do to implement the Annan plan, which includes a real ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from populated areas.

"So if they [the regime] are in breach of that resolution, the UN Security Council is entitled to consider what further measures can be taken. I don't want at this stage to speculate about those measures but we and many others would want to return to this very vigorously," he said.

Russia and China have refused to back repeated attempts to involve the UN in the Syrian uprising, pointing out that a resolution on Libya to establish a no-fly zone and protect civilians was used to mount an air campaign which ensured regime change. However, Moscow and Beijing did vote for Security Council resolution 2042 putting the peace plan brokered by Mr Annan into effect.

The UK will "intensify" support for the Syrian opposition and provide an additional £4m in aid for refugees. A UN-sponsored survey by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre found that the numbers of civilians uprooted since the uprising began had risen to 230,000.

Mr Hague pointed out the dire humanitarian situation and said he had asked the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, to press President Assad to end hostilities. He continued: "Russia did help last week to put pressure on the Assad regime to ostensibly accept the Annan plan, to accept a ceasefire. And that is why we look to Russia to continue to be helpful in saying to the Assad regime, 'look if this breaks down, the whole world will be able to see who's responsible'."

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato Secretary-General, has maintained during this summit that Nato does not want to get involved in Syria, particularly as there is no legal mandate to do so. However, the crisis has been discussed by delegates. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said the US had been sending a significant amount of non-lethal supplies, including communications equipment.

Mr Lavrov, speaking at the Nato conference, accused the West of turning a blind eye to attacks by rebels, while pillorying the regime. "There are armed groups which are being supplied with weapons by outside countries, there have been terrorist bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. But we are supposed to believe that all that is happening is the Syrian government [is] using tanks to shoot down demonstrators," he said.

He claimed that the "so-called 'Friends of Syria'" group – which includes the US and Britain – was being "unhelpful" in promoting the peace process, saying that its uncritical support was encouraging the opposition not to compromise.

"It is up to everyone to help the Kofi Annan plan," he said.

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