UK & World News
UK To Supply Military Aid To Syria Opposition
The UK is to supply armoured vehicles and body armour to opposition forces in Syria, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.
In a statement to the Commons, William Hague said Britain would increase aid to Syrian opposition forces, including providing "new types of non-lethal equipment for the protection of civilians", after EU sanctions had been amended.
He said the UK, along with the National Coalition, was in the middle of trying to identify "the protective equipment that will be of most use to them and likely to save most lives".
"It will certainly include armoured four-wheel drive vehicles to help opposition forces move around more freely as well as personal protection equipment including body armour," he added.
Testing equipment to provide evidence of any use of chemical weapons by the regime and training for armed groups in international human rights and legal standards is also being sent.
Mr Hague said £3m had been allocated this month for the work with another £10m to follow - urging other countries to do the same.
"The Cabinet is in no doubt that this is a necessary, proportionate and lawful response to a situation of extreme humanitarian suffering, and that there is no practicable alternative," he said.
"All our assistance will be carefully calibrated and monitored as well as legal, and will be aimed at saving life, alleviating this human catastrophe and supporting moderate groups.
Mr Hague told MPs that the conflict in Syria, where President Bashar Assad is trying to defeat attempts to overthrow his regime, had reached "catastrophic" proportions.
The British Government could not stand aside as Assad used Scud missiles against civilians, Mr Hague said, adding that diplomacy was "taking far too long and the number of dead continues to rise".
The death toll is reported to have reached 70,000 since the fighting began two years ago, with more people having been killed so far this year than during the whole first year of the conflict.
Some 40,000 people were fleeing the civil war each week, many of them children, he added.
His speech came as the UN refugee agency revealed official figures showing the number of Syrian refugees leaving their homeland had topped the one million mark.
Mr Hague described it as a "sad milestone".
The Foreign Secretary also warned that there was a danger Syria could become a "top destination for jihadists anywhere in the world".
Meanwhile, there were risks that the Syrian government could use chemical weapons against civilians, he said, telling MPs there was "credible information" that Iran was providing "considerable military support" to Mr Assad.
Sky News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Lisa Holland said Mr Hague's announcement marked "a new phase in what Britain is going to do for the opposition".
The effort to try to move forward the stalemate in the Syria crisis follows a visit last week by new US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Speaking in London, he said the Syrian opposition would not be "left dangling" and that Western leaders had "new ideas" on Syria in the face of growing frustration by the opposition over the lack of help they have received.