Britain hands out aid to ‘shield 
civilians from Assad violence’

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Britain is to expand its support to the Syrian political opposition fighting President Bashar Assad with an extra £5m of non-lethal practical assistance,

The Foreign Secretary announced the move yesterday, saying the financial assistance would help protect civilians from “some of the worst of the violence”.

He said: “So now in the absence of diplomatic progress, the United Kingdom will do much more. We will expand our support to the Syrian people and the Syrian political opposition with an extra £5m in non-lethal practical assistance.

“This will help protect unarmed opposition groups, human rights activists and civilians from some of the worst of the violence.

“This is in addition to, and separate from, our humanitarian assistance.”

The announcement comes just days after the World Health Organisation warned of a severe shortage of medical and health supplies in Syria where transport routes have been blocked by the ever increasing violence.

Speaking at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr Hague said: “We expect that our assistance will include trauma and medical supplies for civilians in areas under regime control and could include items such as paramedic trauma kits, specialist trauma treatment, surgical equipment, field dressings, antibiotics, pain killers and water purification kits to respond to the cutting of fresh water supplies.”

Mr Hague said assistance to the opposition would include communications equipment to “help political activists overcome the regime’s communications blockade”.

The US has also been providing non-lethal assistance to Syrian rebels, such as communications and intelligence.

The Foreign Secretary said it was recognised the situation in Syria had descended to a level that was “an affront to the conscience of humanity” and said the UN Security Council, which will meet again at the end of this month, had a responsibility to “stop the bloodshed”.

But he added: “The people of Syria cannot wait indefinitely. People are dying and are trapped without food and shelter.”

More training would be provided to support the documentation by Syrian activists of human rights violations and abuses and “to support steps to help Syrian opposition groups to uphold human rights”.

He added assistance could also include life saving protective equipment for civilians “to help those carrying out vital work in the crossfire”, such as body armour.

But he stressed Britain’s support would be “consistent with our laws and values”.

“This is assistance that will help save lives, not abandon all Syrians to the mercy of the regime. It will help people caught up in a terrible conflict.”

Efforts to achieve a united UN Security Council response – currently blocked by Russia and China – would continue. “We will not pause or rest in trying to seek a diplomatic solution,” he said.

The Foreign Secretary refused to say to whom Britain was speaking from the political side of the Free Syrian Army because to do so would put them in danger.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: “Given that Syria has descended into civil war the Government needs to act with real care,” he said.

“The international community should be focused on de-escalating the violence in Syria, not escalating it.”

Fighting continues in Aleppo, where the battle for control has raged for more than two weeks, while government forces were also said to be battling rebels outside the capital Damascus on Thursday.

Syrian troops say they have purged rebels from the capital after intense, week-long battles last month. But rebels continue to stage hit-and-run attacks.