Britain in secret talks with Syrian rebels

Former envoy's overture to enemies of Assad

Britain has formally opened talks with the Syrian opposition movement as international pressure continues to mount against the beleaguered regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Frances Guy, a former ambassador to Lebanon, met members of the exiled opposition in Paris yesterday. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is to meet members of the Syrian opposition in London next week when they will also hold talks with senior officials in Downing Street.

Although the UK, along with other Western states like France – which appealed to the United Nations yesterday to impose tougher sanctions – has been in informal contact with the opposition for the last three months, the progression of the working relationship opens up the prospect of the rebels eventually being recognised as the country's representatives and supplanting the Assad regime.

The West's Libyan mission started in a similar fashion with the country's revolutionaries, but senior diplomatic sources warned against drawing parallels. "This is not about recognition of them as the government – that is not the case," said a senior diplomatic source. "The difference with the Libyan situation was that the Libyan National Transitional Council controlled swathes of the country. We are asking the Syrian opposition to present a coherent set of policies and organise themselves." The Syrian National Council and the National Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change are among the groups whose leaders have been involved in the talks.

The development comes as France said that it, too, was ready to work with the Syrian opposition, maintaining that it is too late for the Assad regime to save itself by carrying out reforms.

Opposition from the veto-wielding members Russia and China has largely prevented the UN's Security Council from responding to Assad's crackdown on an eight-month uprising against his rule. But, following talks yesterday in Turkey, the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said the situation was "no longer sustainable" and that the UN must act.

"It is not normal that the Security Council has not made any decision so far," Mr Juppé told reporters. "I hope those blocking any resolution will be aware of the reality of the situation."

Turkey also called for action, with its Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, saying more must be done to stop the "massacre".

As international pressure on Syria builds, Damascus made a tentative gesture to the Arab League, agreeing in principle to allow observers to enter the country for the first time to oversee the implementation of a peace plan to end the bloodshed.

But there were few signs yesterday that the violence was abating following reports that at least 12 civilians, including two children, were killed when security forces fired on protesters following Friday prayers.

Syria's apparent concession came after the Arab League suspended Syria and gave it until the end of this week to implement a peace plan that calls for the regime to withdraw its forces from towns and end the violence. Hundreds of people have been killed since Syria accepted, and then largely ignored, the peace plan three weeks ago.

Syrian officials were yesterday quoted as saying that they would accept foreign observers in the country, but that they had outlined their reservations to the Arab League. The body, which has threatened Damascus with sanctions, said it was studying the suggestions.

But Mr Juppé expressed scepticism that Syria was ready to stop the violence. "We believe the regime was not willing to implement a reform programme and now it is too late," he said.

The UN estimates that at least 3,500 people have been killed since the government began its crackdown against an anti-regime uprising in March. Assad's regime has accused foreign-backed "armed terrorist gangs" of killing 1,000 of its security personnel.

The soaring death toll has pushed some to demand the international community put greater pressure on the embattled regime. In what could be a preliminary push towards sanctions, Germany, France and Britain are planning to ask the UN General Assembly to adopt a non-binding resolution condemning the violence in Syria.

The European Union has already imposed sanctions on Syria, but Russia, a close ally of Syria, and China have blocked any wider international measures under a UN umbrella.

Some protesters have responded to the regime's crackdown by taking up arms to defend themselves. In the past week, the Syrian Free Army, a rebel force formed in July from military defectors, has mounted deadly attacks on regime targets, including the air force's intelligence directorate. The attacks are the most potent fightback so far, and have exacerbated fears that the country is sliding towards armed insurrection.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?