Hague calls on Assad’s soldiers to lay down their weapons

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Foreign Secretary William Hague is calling on Syrian soldiers to lay down their arms, warning that they will be held to account if they turn their weapons on their fellow-countrymen in the expected assault on Homs.

Mr Hague said he was appalled at reports that President Bashar Assad is preparing a full-scale onslaught on the city, which has become a stronghold of dissent against his regime. Yesterday he urged Mr Assad to call off any such plans and allow access for humanitarian agencies.

Britain also condemned the refusal by Damascus to allow the United Nations humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator Baroness Amos into the country to assess the scale of suffering caused by the violence.

Responding to reports that Syrian troops were advancing on Homs, Mr Hague said: “I am appalled by reports that the Assad regime is preparing a full-scale land assault on the people of Homs.

“I urge it to stop any such plans and instead allow immediate and unhindered access to the humanitarian agencies who are ready to deliver vital assistance to those affected by the violence in all parts of the city.

“I call on those Syrians who are being ordered to attack their fellow citizens to make a choice and to lay down their arms. Those who do not do so will be held to account for their actions.

“Britain will continue to do all it can to bring the greatest possible pressure to bear on the Assad regime until it ceases the violence and repression which is doomed to fail. We will work with the Arab league to ensure a Syrian-led political transition that brings an end to this terrible crisis”.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell called on Syria to let Baroness Amos into the country.

Mr Mitchell said the refusal showed the regime’s “utter disregard” for those suffering as a result of the current crisis.

In a statement released in London, Mr Mitchell said: “I am appalled at the news that UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator Baroness Amos’s request to visit Syria to assess the humanitarian situation has not been granted.

“The whole world has come together in recent days to urge the Assad regime to allow immediate and unhindered access for humanitarian agencies who are looking to assist all Syrians affected by the current crisis. This shows the regime’s utter disregard for its people and leaves it isolated on the international stage.”

The UK would continue to support humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, he added

Syria will be high on the agenda when European Union leaders, including David Cameron, meet in Brussels for a two-day summit starting today.