William Hague set to pledge 'non-lethal' military support to Syrian opposition at Rome conference

Meet follows change in sanctions to allow supply of armoured cars and body armour

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The Independent Online

William Hague is due to meet members of the Syrian opposition this morning ahead of an international conference in which rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime are expected to be assured of 'non-lethal' military support.

Although the European Union refused to lift a ban on supplies of weapons to the revolutionaries, the British foreign secretary had succeeded in changing the sanction regulations on Syria to allow the options of training the fighters and sending them support including armoured cars and body armour.

John Kerry, the newly appointed US Secretary of State, held talks with the leader of the opposition National Coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, who had previously threatened to boycott the talks in protest against Western inaction in the face of murderous attacks by regime forces.

Mr Kerry is also expected to promise  ‘non-lethal’ military aid to the rebels. President Barack Obama had vetoed the plans of the Secretary of State’s predecessor, Hilary Clinton, and former US defence secretary Leon Panetta to send arms because they may fall into the hands of Islamist extremists.

However, the Syrian opposition stressed that offensive weapons were necessary to combat the onslaught by regime forces. Riad Seif, one of its leaders, claimed that confidential “special meetings” will be held on the issue of military support. He said “ We expect to receive political, humanitarian and qualitative military support”.

The Rome meeting comes two days before the opposition holds elections in Istanbul to elect a prime minister and a cabinet to administer parts of the country which the rebels have seized from the regime’s control.