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Hague backs Syria peacekeeping bid

Plans to send a joint United Nations and Arab League peacekeeping force into Syria must be discussed "urgently", Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.

Following Sunday's Arab League meeting Mr Hague said he welcomed the establishment of the Group of Friends of Syria which is expected to include exiled opposition leaders.

But he said any peacekeeping force could only be sent in once President Bashar Assad had ended his military crackdown against civilians.

Mr Hague said "significant steps" were taken at yesterday's Arab League meeting to increase the "diplomatic and economic isolation" of the Syrian regime.

He said the UK would play a "very active part" in the new Group of Friends of Syria, established to increase political and financial support to opposition leaders in Syria. The group will meet on February 24.

The Group of Friends of Syria, which includes the US and its European allies, was set up after last weekend's veto at the UN by Russia and China of a Western and Arab draft resolution which would have pressured President Assad to step down.

The Arab League wants to provide political and material support for the Syrian opposition groups. It calls for a halt to diplomatic contact with Syria and for referring officials responsible for crimes against the Syrian people to international criminal tribunals.

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said Britain will not provide troops for a "peacekeeping" mission in Syria.

He said: "We believe that the forces that are deployed should not be Western and we would look to Arab League and other countries to make up a peacekeeping force."

Mr Burt added: "We want to make sure that those documenting these events have the right equipment to do so, so that those who are perpetrating violence know they are being monitored and will be brought to justice."

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