Britain Won't Rule Out Supplying Arms to Syrian Rebels

Britain is expected to announce it will provide non-lethal assistance to anti-Assad rebels days after a similar U.S. plan was made public.

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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 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.

Washington said on Thursday it would provide non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels to bolster their popular support. The package is expected to include medical supplies, food and $60 million. New U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Friday he believed giving only "non-lethal support" was correct.

Britain has in the past also offered non-lethal aid to the rebels, such as radios, body armor and medical supplies. Hague is set to make an announcement to parliament this week about more aid, but told BBC television it would not include weapons.

"I will not be announcing this week arms to the Syrian opposition," he said in an interview. "I don't rule out anything for the future.

"If this is going to go on for months or years ... and countries like Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan are going to be destabilized, it's not something we can ignore," Hague added.

"You can reach the point eventually where humanitarian need is so great and the loss of life so great that you have to do something new in order to save lives."

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague appears on BBC, March 3, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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