UK rules out military action or arming Syrian rebels

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE said they were expelling Syrian envoys

Britain categorically ruled out military intervention by the West in Syria yesterday despite the intensification of the crackdown on dissidents by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

David Cameron chaired a meeting of the National Security Council which agreed to increase sanctions against the regime and to strengthen links with opposition leaders.

The Government also reacted sceptically to claims from the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, who visited Damascus yesterday, that Mr Assad was ready to end the violence and call a referendum on a new constitution. Downing Street said the regime had to be judged not by words but by its "savage" actions.

However, it made clear there was no prospect of arming rebel factions, stressing that support was limited to advice on communications and training. Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office minister, also said military action was impossible after Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution calling on Mr Assad to step down.

Mr Burt told Sky News: "To step in militarily... is easy to say, but incredibly difficult to do. It needs a UN resolution in order to be legal, supported by many nations. The action is not to be through a military intervention from the West."

Britain believes the Arab League has to lead pressure on Mr Assad to end his brutal suppression. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced yesterday they were recalling their ambassadors from Damascus and expelling Syrian envoys. The Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises the six states, accused Syria of rejecting Arab attempts to "solve this crisis and prevent the bloodshed of the Syrian people". It said: "The council considers it is necessary for the Arab states... to take every decisive measure faced with this dangerous escalation against the Syrian people. Nearly a year into the crisis, there is no glint of hope in a solution."

In a report today, the House of Commons defence select committee also warns of practical problems in mounting another military operation on the scale of the intervention in Libya. The MPs said last year's intervention, which led to Muammar Gaddafi's overthrow, had been justified because of "the gravity of the situation and potential consequences of inaction" for civilians. However, they pointed out it was carried out before key defence cuts had been implemented.

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