10 Aug 2012

UK pledges £5m to anti-Assad Syria rebels

The UK government says it will give £5m to rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria to pay for “non-lethal support for the political opposition”.

Foreign Secretary William Hague is committing the money to fund communications equipment and medical supplies – mostly to the largest rebel group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

However, the assistance will not include any weapons.

Attempts to oust President Bashar al-Assad have led to 17 months of unrest, during which activists claim more than 20,000 people have died.

However, reports of casualties often cannot be independently verified.

The UK is also telling opposition forces they must observe human rights standards.

Extra support

The extra practical support for the opposition will include more radio and satellite equipment, as well as portable power generators.

The Foreign Office says it will help protect activists from repression and help them overcome the Syrian government’s jamming and blocking techniques.

It said Britain has previously made £1.4m available in “non-lethal support to the political opposition”.

This has included providing training and assistance to human rights groups in Syria.

Funding totalling £27.5m is also being provided by Britain for humanitarian aid such as food, medical care and shelter in Syria, as well as for Syrian refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries. Some 800 of these also need assistance with water sanitation.

Mr Hague, writing in the Times, says it remains British policy not to send arms.

But he says the risk of not working with Syrians who want a democratic and open Syria is that the conflict will be hijacked by al-Qaeda and other extremists.

And the foreign secretary acknowledges that the risk of total disorder and a power vacuum in Syria is now so great that British contacts with what he calls “political elements” of the Syrian opposition need to be stepped up.