Tuesday 23 January 2018

Syria is top destination for jihadists, says Hague

David Blair London

SYRIA has become the "top destination for jihadists" throughout the world, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said yesterday, announcing that Britain will give the opposition "non-lethal" military equipment for the first time.

Mr Hague , pictured, promised another £13m (€15m) of British help for opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, on top of £9.4m (€10.87m) already committed.

While no weapons or ammunition will be supplied, Britain has secured an amendment of the European Union arms embargo to allow the provision of certain military equipment, such as armoured cars and body armour.

"Our policy has to move towards more active efforts to prevent the loss of life in Syria and this means stepping up our support to the opposition," said Mr Hague in the House of Commons. The aim is to increase the "pressure on the regime to accept a political solution".

Mr Hague's statement came as the United Nations confirmed that 20 peacekeepers from the Philippines had been detained by armed fighters in a Syrian-controlled area of the Golan Heights. A video posted on the internet showed the gunmen, claiming to be Syrian rebels, standing next to UN-marked vehicles.

Earlier, the UN announced that more than a million refugees have fled Syria, filling to capacity camps in all neighbouring countries, including Iraq.

Mr Hague warned that Syria's civil war could threaten British national security because Islamist fighters were flocking to the country. "Syria today has become the top destination for jihadists anywhere in the world," said Mr Hague. "We cannot allow Syria to become another breeding ground for terrorists."

Mr Assad's secular regime, dominated by the Alawite sect of Shia Islam, is a bitter foe of Sunni extremism. As the conflict continues, the opposition is becoming steadily more religious and radical. Last year, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qa'ida leader, called for Mr Assad to be overthrown.

Western governments fear if they fail to help the opposition, its leadership will be overtaken by extremists.

Hundreds of British passport-holders are believed to have travelled to Syria to fight against Mr Assad.

By offering more British help, Mr Hague wants to steer the opposition in a moderate direction. But he still does not feel confident enough to give weapons. While he didn't rule out arming the insurgents in future, he stressed this would happen only if there was "absolutely no alternative". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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