Britain to double support to Syrian opposition (TELEGRAPH UK) By Damien McElroy, Adrian Blomfield 03/30/12)
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Britain announced it would double support to Syria´s fractured
opposition forces amid reports that almost the entire 50,000 strong
Christian population of Homs had been driven out by fighting.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, told the Lord Mayor´s Easter
banquet in the City, that £500,000 would be set aside to provide "non-
lethal" assistance to hard-pressed opponents of the Assad regime.
Britain has already provided £450,000 to the opposition since last
year but the new resources will be used to extend the scope of
support to include satellite communications equipment, training
schemes and back office facilities for the opposition. Britain sent
an expert mission to the region last month to help document the
atrocities that have taken place, so that regime figures will
ultimately be held to account.
The scale of violence reached an unrivalled peak in Homs where the
number of Christian´s left in the ancient city has fallen below 1,000.
As a major government offensive against Baba Amr and other rebel-held
areas of Homs got under way in early February, many Christians left
the city because of the intensity of the fighting.
One priest from the district of Hamidiya, who fled to Lebanon seven
weeks ago, said friends who remained in the city had spoken of a
growing "atmosphere of fear".
"Some Christians who tried to escape a week ago were stopped from
leaving by the rebels and were instead forced to go to a mosque to
act as shields," he said. "They thought that, because Christians
support Assad, the government would not attack them."
Church leaders have accused Muslim neighbours of turning on the
Christians, who have fled to villages and towns around the city, as
well as into Lebanon.
"The people we are helping are very afraid," Bishop Antoine Audo of
Aleppo said. "The Christians don´t know what their future will hold.
They are afraid they will not get their homes back.
However Abou Salaam, a Jesuit priest in the city, said that Muslim
imams had held meetings with the remaining Christians to reassure
them they were safe in the city.
Despite the broad public respect they enjoy from the rebel leaders,
many Christians fear that they will remain vulnerable. About one in
10 of Syria´s 20 million population is Christian.
"There were rumours of extremists coming to Homs from other Muslim
countries to fight with the rebels," he said. "We don´t know if it
was true, but it frightened many people."
He added: "The Christians are caught in the middle. We are victims of
Efforts to stop Syria´s descent into civil war reached a decisive
juncture with the launch of Mr Annan´s peace initiative, which has
the support of Russia and China as well as the West and the Arab
Officials said that the opposition needed to come together as a
viable opponent and a potential alternative centre of power to
President Assad, if, as hoped, he is eased out of power.
"The behaviour of the Assad regime so far is as futile as it is
morally indefensible," Mr Hague said. "They have now said they will
accept Kofi Annan´s plan to end the violence and start a political
"President Assad and his allies ... must be left in no doubt that if
there is not a political transition that reflects the will of the
people, then they will be shunned by the international community and
we will close every door to them. They will face still more
sanctions. Their assets will remain frozen. Their travel to Europe
and many other nations will always be banned, as will the travel of
their families. And they will be pursued by mechanisms of justice and
held to account."
With at least 26 killed in continuing government offensives two days
after the Syrian leader accepted Mr Annan´s proposals. Mr Assad set
out conditions of his own for a ceasefire.
The Annan plan must also get a commitment from armed groups to cease
their "terrorist acts" against the government, according to the state
news agency Thursday.
"It is necessary to get a commitment from other parties for armed
groups to stop their terrorist acts, to withdraw the weapons of these
groups ... and for them to stop ... kidnapping innocent civilians,
massacres and the destruction of private and public infrastructure,"
Julien Barnes-Dacey, a Syrian analyst at the European Council on
Foreign Relations, said champions of the Syrian opposition had been
forced to accept that diplomatic efforts to oust Assad would prevail
over military options.
"The Annan plan is the only game in town for the moment," he
said. "Outside intervention is impossible for diplomacy is the only
way forward. Therefore there is a need to build a stronger opposition
to take part in the political process."
At least one million Syrians need humanitarian assistance, a UN
spokesman said Thursday at the end of an assessment mission to the
country international experts. (© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group
Limited 2012. 03/30/12)
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