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Middle East

'You need to go to Geneva': Opposition source reveals threat made by Britain and US over Syria peace talks

The two Western powers could withdraw support from the rebels unless they attend

Britain and the US have threatened to withdraw support from the Syrian rebels unless they attend forthcoming peace talks, a senior member of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad's regime has claimed.

The official revealed that there were divisions among the international backers of the opposition. While London and Washington issue ultimatums, France, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have pledged solidarity whether or not the regime's opponents attend the negotiations scheduled for next week in Geneva.

“The US and UK are telling us 'you need to go to Geneva'. France is asking us to go but saying 'we are with you whatever your decision is': that is the same as the Saudi and Turkish stance”, said the official during a visit to London.

“The US and UK are making it very clear they will not continue to support us the way they are doing now, and that we will lose credibility with the international community if we do not go.”

The French have stated they will continue to supply aid and equipment, but not weaponry, he added. The Saudis are providing arms to the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the military arm of the main opposition group, the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), while other countries are arming extreme Islamist groups. “The problem is that not all the suppliers are on the same page”, he said.

The US and UK suspended the sending of ‘non-lethal’ military items to the opposition after a number of border crossings from Turkey fell into the hands of Islamist groups and the supplies were stolen. William Hague told the Commons that Britain is reconsidering the ban. However, he rejected a call by a cross-party group of MPs, including recently departed Middle East minister Alistair Burt, to provide weapons for the rebels.

The foreign secretary also announced that a warship, HMS Montrose, will join a convoy transporting the first consignment of weapons from President Assad's chemical arsenal and stated the UK would assist the US to “neutralise” the most dangerous material.

The disillusionment of the opposition with the West reached its height when the West failed to take military action against the regime after the crossing of Barack Obama's 'red-line' with the chemical attack on Ghouta, near Damascus.

Mr Hague insisted that the only way ahead was a diplomatic solution and the Geneva talks were imperative and “it was vital for both the regime and the opposition to attend. We will do everything possible with other nations to help it succeed.”

The opposition will formally decide whether it attends Geneva on Friday. It remains divided over the talks with some holding that the US and Britain are pushing it to turn up while confidence building measures asked from the regime prior to the talks have been ignored.

The official pointed out that a humanitarian corridor to provide aid to swathes of the population trapped by the fighting and facing extreme hardship is yet to materialise as are mooted release of female prisoners. President Assad's forces, meanwhile, have stepped up attacks, including air strikes, on civilian areas.

Asked whether attending the Geneva talks would lead to further fracturing of the opposition with possible resignations from those opposed to the process, the official acknowledged that was a possibility, before adding: “We have always had resignations, it is the Syrian way.”

The Assad regime, the survival of which has depended on the Kremlin's support, openly questioned the credibility of the meeting, casting doubts on whether any of the objectives could be achieved. It said in a statement that decisions in Paris were “closer to illusions than reality and taken by people who are detached from reality and extremely far from any acceptable political logic.”

There were also doubts about localised ceasefires. A number of rebel factions, including the FSA, are currently involved in battles with Isis (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) an extension of al-Qa'ida, in rebel held Aleppo and Idlib provinces. Territories being won from Isis are currently passing into the hands of the Islamic Front, a group which does not recognise the SNC and may not accept any deal it agrees to with the regime in Paris via the Americans and the Russians.

Syria terror arrests in Britain

Two men have been arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences relating to activities in Syria, police said tonight.

West Midlands Police said the pair, both aged 21 and from Birmingham, were detained at Heathrow Airport today after arriving back in the UK on a flight from Turkey. Detectives believe the men travelled to Syria last May.