UK does not rule out future arms to Syria rebels

Britain's foreign secretary says that while a new package only consists of non-lethal aid, he won't rule out anything for the future.

March 3, 2013 14:46
4 minute read.
Free Syria Army fighters in Saraqeb [file photo]

Free Syria Army fighters in Saraqeb 370 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS / Handout)

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 Syrian President Bashar Assad, despite their firm diplomatic backing for efforts to remove him.

Reuters and 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.

Hague dismissed Assad's remarks as "delusional."

"This 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 criticized the West for pledging more aid to fighters.

"The 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.

Nearly 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.

In 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 in Islamists.

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 Syria."

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