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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
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