Britain has no plans to arm Syrian rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad, the Foreign Secretary William Hague said Thursday night.
Hague insisted the UK had no intention of getting involved in the conflict inside Syria, where Assad’s opponents are facing violent reprisals from the regime.
He would not guarantee that Britain would not become involved in military action, but stressed: “We are clearly not planning military intervention.”
Amid speculation that the UK could assist the rebels with weapons or other equipment, Hague told Sky News TV: “Britain is not engaged in that and we haven’t done that in any of the conflicts or we certainly don’t have any plans to do such”.
“We are intensifying our contacts with opposition groups, opposition groups mainly outside Syria.”
“We’re also increasing our support for organisations that get food and medical supplies in to people so badly affected by this situation.”
Asked whether Britain could help the opposition with communications or body armour, he added: “No, our plans at the moment are to intensify our diplomatic work which is what we are doing with the Arab League, with our partners at the United Nations Security Council, to help with food and medical supplies, to work with the opposition outside Syria.”
“These are the things we’re doing, there is a lot the United Kingdom can do on all those fronts but we’re not engaged in conflict within Syria.”
Earlier, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to maintain the pressure on Bashar Assad and his government and Britain’s ambassador to Syria hit out at the regime’s “shocking” violence against its own people.
Simon Collis described seeing security forces beat 40 peaceful protesters in the centre of the capital.
In a blog on the Foreign Office website, Collis – who was recalled from Damascus for consultations earlier this week – wrote: “They made no provocative chants and advocated no violence. They simply held up pictures of their friends and family members that had been held in detention for months or years without trial. It was a scene of dignified and peaceful protest.”
“After 10 minutes, the regime had had enough. Plain-clothed security forces moved in en masse.”
“We stood and watched as they beat innocent civilians with sticks and batons.”
Collis went on: “Without context, it can be hard to make sense of YouTube images shot on a mobile phone.”
“It can be hard to understand why a man with a family in a town in Syria would decide to take up arms against his government.”
“It can be hard to believe that over 5,000 people have been killed in 10 months, or that torture is a regular occurrence in prisons, children brutalised and tanks and mortars used by the army against its own citizens.”
“If I hadn’t seen for myself what the Syrian regime has done I would be asking these questions too.”
“But I have. And it is too shocking to ignore.”
Speaking at an international gathering in Sweden, Cameron said he was determined to see the “toughest possible response” to the brutality.”
“It really is appalling, the scenes of destruction in Homs, and it is quite clear that this is a regime hell-bent on killing, murdering and maiming its own citizens,” he said.