UK & World News
Syria: Britain Supports Rebel Coalition
Britain is to support a coalition of Syrian rebels after recognising it as the "sole legitimate representative" of the country's people.
The National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces brings together opponents of President Bashar al Assad's regime.
Foreign Secretary William Hague announced the decision after meeting with the alliance's leaders last week and speaking to other European countries.
"It is strongly in the interests of Syria, of the wider region and of the United Kingdom that we support them and deny space to extremist groups," he said.
Mr Hague said the coalition had promised to leave the door open to other opposition groups who wanted to join them.
It has also vowed to appeal to Syrians from all communities and to be a "moderate political force committed to democracy" that would not repeat Mr Assad's abuses.
The Foreign Secretary told MPs the Government would press them to uphold their commitments, while also offering them practical support.
The coalition will be invited to have a political representative in the UK, and there will be assistance for the opposition in setting up political and humanitarian structures.
A £1m package of communications support will be provided, possibly including mobile internet hubs and satellite phones.
A "stabilisation response team" will be sent to the region to help the coalition meet basic needs in areas held by opposition forces.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening is also looking at increasing British assistance to Syrians affected by the conflict.
The opposition alliance was formed from Syria's disparate opposition groups at a meeting in Doha earlier this month.
The Syrian uprising against Mr Assad's rule started in March 2011 and at first was largely dominated by peaceful protests.
It turned bloody after rebels took up arms in response to a crackdown by the regime. Activists say more than 36,000 have been killed in the conflict.
Mr Hague condemned the "barbaric violence" of Mr Assad's administration, which has seen another 400,000 people become refugees.
He hailed the formation of the coalition as a "major breakthrough" and said a political transition was urgently needed.
The Foreign Secretary refused to rule out of the prospect of Britain arming the rebels directly but said there had not yet been any decision to change policy.
"We rule out no options. It is the job of the National Security Council to look at all options, particularly as this crisis worsens," he said.
"It is foolish to rule out options when we don't know how those situations will proceed."