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Hague: No decision on arming rebels

Foreign Secretary William Hague has insisted no decision has been be taken on arming Syrian rebels as an international summit on tackling the crisis began in Qatar.

He said the UK's position on the supply of weapons would not be changed at the meeting in Doha, but the Friends of Syria group would consider how to co-ordinate support for those opposing President Bashar Assad.

Mr Hague said the UK's focus was on the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the search for a political solution to the civil war.

The Foreign Secretary said: "I want to make very clear at the outset that there is no change in the posture or the policy of the United Kingdom today, to announce today or to discuss today.

"So on the much debated question over whether we should give lethal aid of any kind to the Syrian opposition, the National Coalition, the position remains the same. We've taken no decision to do that and if we did the Prime Minister and I have said we would debate that and have a vote in our Parliament about it."

He said the humanitarian situation was "right at the top of the list" of matters to be discussed. Another key priority was political progress, ahead of a planned conference aimed at bringing both the Assad regime and the opposition to the table.

Mr Hague said:"In the end there is only a political solution to this conflict. That has to be arrived at some stage and so we want to see a successful conference in Geneva bringing the regime and opposition together."

Although the UK has not supplied arms to the rebels, it has provided non-lethal assistance and Mr Hague said the talks would discuss co-ordinating the support offered to the opposition.

Mr Hague said: "We won't get a political solution if Assad and his regime think they can eliminate all legitimate opposition by force and so we have to give assistance to that opposition, the National Coalition, encouraging them to expand and be inclusive at the same time.

"The United Kingdom supplies equipment that saves lives; body armour, electricity generators, water purification kits, equipment of that kind. Of course we try to co-ordinate how we do that with other countries. These are the sorts of things that we will be discussing here."

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