LONDON - Britain cannot rule out providing arms to Syrian rebels in the
future, although a new aid package it will announce this week will
consist only of non-lethal assistance, Foreign Secretary William Hague
said on Sunday.
Western countries have so far shied away from
arming the rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad, despite their
firm diplomatic backing for efforts to remove him.
other news media have reported fighters getting increasingly large
shipments of arms through Turkey and Jordan in recent months, with
funding for those weapons believed to come from wealthy Arab states,
like Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Washington said on Thursday
it would provide non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels to bolster their
popular support. The package is expected to include medical supplies,
food and $60 million. New US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on
Friday he believed giving only "non-lethal support" was correct.
has in the past also offered non-lethal aid to the rebels, such as
radios, body armor and medical supplies. Hague is set to make an
announcement to parliament this week about more aid, but told BBC
television it would not include weapons.
"I will not be
announcing this week arms to the Syrian opposition," he said in an
interview. "I don't rule out anything for the future.
"If this is
going to go on for months or years ... and countries like Iraq and
Lebanon and Jordan are going to be destabilized, it's not something we
can ignore," Hague added.
"You can reach the point eventually
where humanitarian need is so great and the loss of life so great that
you have to do something new in order to save lives."
Hague: Britain keeping its options open
has previously said Britain was keeping its options open in Syria, and
the Foreign Office said his remarks on Sunday were not intended to
signal a shift in policy.
Nevertheless, the question of whether
the West will shift to explicit military support is being closely
watched at a time when more non-lethal aid is being pledged and Syrian
opposition leaders are trying to demonstrate to foreign backers that
they can curb the influence of Islamist radicals in their ranks.
In a televised interview with The Sunday Times newspaper shown in London late on Saturday, Assad said Britain's involvement in the Syria crisis was naive and unrealistic.
can we expect them (Britain) to make the violence less when they want
to send military supplies to the terrorists?" Assad said in the
Hague dismissed Assad's remarks as "delusional".
is a man presiding over this slaughter. The message to him is: 'We,
Britain, are the people sending food and shelter and blankets to help
people driven from their homes and families in his name'," Hague said.
Iran, Assad's main ally, also criticised the West for pledging more aid to fighters.
announcement of more help for terrorists by political authorities is a
big mistake and they will soon see the results," said Revolutionary
Guards commander Brigadier-General Massoud Jazayeri, state news agency
IRNA reported on Sunday.
"Some European countries and America who
are causing the chaos in Syria will be targeted heavily by these same
terrorists. Links between them show that this is a precursor to
transferring the agitation from Syria to other places," he said.
two years of war in Syria has killed 70,000 people and driven millions
from their homes. The opposition made major military gains in the second
half of 2012 and now controls substantial territory, but is still
outgunned by Assad's forces.
Western countries have been loathe
to arm the fighters, in part because many groups have links to Islamist
militants and are seen by the West as potentially dangerous renegades.
recent months the opposition has set up a unified military command,
which rebels have told Reuters is distributing arms and cash sent by
foreign backers to units that assure their loyalty, as a way of reining
Hague said he would seek a diplomatic breakthrough
during talks with his Russian counterpart, but had little hope for now.
Moscow has supported Assad and says his exit from power should not be a
pre-condition for a negotiated settlement.
"The Russian foreign
minister will be here in London in the next 10 days and of course we
will have another major discussion about Syria to see whether we can
make some diplomatic breakthrough, but there is no sign of that at the
moment, hence we have to do more to try to protect civilian lives in
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