Britain fuels Syrian rebels’ fight

Britain fuels Syrian rebels’ fight

UK sends half a million pounds in nonlethal aid to opposition groups

Syrian rebels outside Idlib, Syria. (photo credit: AP)
Syrian rebels outside Idlib, Syria. (photo credit: AP)

LONDON (AP) — Britain allocated 500,000 pounds ($795,000) Thursday to supply nonlethal aid to Syria’s opposition, pledging assistance to groups inside the country for the first time ahead of international talks this weekend on how best to support the nation’s rebels.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the offer of new funds includes an “agreement in principle” to provide support to opposition members inside Syria.

Until now, Britain has supplied assistance to exiles in the West and opponents of President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria’s neighboring countries, amid concern over the practicalities of delivering items into Syria and fears that equipment could end up in the hands of extremists.

Precise details of what type of support and equipment will be offered are still being determined, though the package is likely to include secure telephones.

“It will help hard-pressed opposition groups and brave civil society organizations inside and outside the country to document the regime’s violations and gain the skills and resources they need to help build a democratic future for Syria,” Hague planned to say in a speech later Thursday, according to excerpts released in advance.

The United States and several European and Arab nations will discuss providing aid to Syrian rebels at a meeting in Istanbul on April 1.

Britain has repeatedly stressed it isn’t prepared to consider supplying weapons to the country’s opposition, and officials insist that there is no evidence so far of any state becoming involved in the supply of arms.

It is hoped that providing secure telephones will help opposition figures improve their communication with those trying to deliver humanitarian assistance inside Syria and allow them to better coordinate efforts to keep residents safe.

The UK already has spent about 450,000 pounds to support Syria’s opposition outside the country over the last eight months, offering training in strategic communications and support to those documenting abuses by Assad’s regime in a conflict which the U.N. says has left more than 9,000 people dead.

Last month, Britain sent a team of officials and legal experts to Syria’s neighboring nations to document the Assad regime’s violence. The mission was intended to gather viable evidence for use in any future prosecutions.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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