Britain announces more ‘non-lethal’ rebel support


The British government has said it will give equipment to rebel forces in Syria, from radio and satellite equipment to medical supplies, power generators and body armor. The Free Syrian Army is to receive the goods.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said that Britain would provide extra equipment worth five million pounds ($7.82 million, 6.3 million euros) to the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), calling the move “the right thing to do.”

“The people of Syria cannot wait indefinitely, people are dying,” Hague told reporters in London on Friday. “In the absence of diplomatic progress the UK will do much more. We will expand our support to the Syrian people and the Syrian political opposition with an extra five million pounds in non-lethal practical assistance.”

The goods will include radio and satellite equipment, portable power generators, medical and sanitary equipment, mobile phones and possibly body armor.

“I have also agreed in principle that our assistance should include lifesaving protective equipment for civilians to help those carrying out vital work in the crossfire, and this could for instance include body armor,” Hague said. One of the most vocal critics of President Bashar Assad’s government, Hague described the Syrian leadership as “doomed.”

The foreign secretary also said that Britain would not be providing weapons to the opposition, pointing to the continued reports of war crimes committed by the rebel forces in Syria.

The conservative minister said the decision was the upshot of failed attempts at the UN Security Council to impose tougher, potentially military, sanctions against the regime in Damascus – with Russia and China voting down three such resolutions.

Activist groups say the 17 months of unrest in Syria have claimed over 20,000 lives but the figures are usually impossible to verify. The UN stopped issuing its official estimates several months ago.

New special envoy?

Several news agencies have reported that the former foreign minister of Algeria, veteran diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, was likely to become the new UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria. He would replace former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who resigned earlier this month lamenting the bickering at the Security Council. The respective “sides” at the council promptly blamed each other for this.

Annan brokered an April peace agreement that never really took hold, with government and opposition forces continuing their conflict and refusing to enter into negotiations.

Brahimi has taken up UN jobs in crisis warzones like Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years, he is 78 years old.

“We want a strong successor to Annan,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Friday. “The successor can play a decisive role in starting a political process in Syria.”

Daily conflict continues on the ground in Syria, with the main focus of the rebel and army forces still the country’s second city, Aleppo. Situated in the north close to the Turkish border, it’s considered a strategic target of the rebels as they seek to establish a stronghold in the country.

msh/mz (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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