Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

UK 'will help train Syrian rebels'

A Free Syrian Army fighter holds his weapon as he prepares himself for advance, close to a military base, near Azaz (AP)

Britain is working with key international allies on plans to provide Syrian rebels with military training and air and naval support, it has been reported.

The head of the armed forces, General Sir David Richards, hosted confidential talks in London a few weeks ago with military chiefs from France, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the UAE and a three-star US general to discuss strategy, according to The Independent.

The meeting was said to have been held at the request of Prime Minister David Cameron who has made no secret of his frustration at the failure of diplomatic efforts to end the violence which has claimed 40,000 lives.

The Ministry of Defence on Monday night confirmed it was carrying out contingency planning with international partners, including the US, but refused to be drawn on the details.

According to The Independent, the countries involved have concluded that the 22-month old civil war has reached a tipping point and that intervention is essential to ensure the rebels finally topple the regime of president Bashar Assad.

The report follows a series of strident warnings by the US administration that the regime is preparing to use chemical weapons against its own people - something president Barack Obama said he would not tolerate.

The paper said training camps could be set up across the Syrian border in Turkey, although Britain, France and the US were said to have agreed that their forces would not have "boots on the ground" helping the rebels.

Nevertheless any move to provide air or maritime support would prove highly contentious, provoking accusations that the West is again trying to achieve regime change as it did in Libya. Last week Nato agreed to deploy Patriot air defence missiles in Turkey - a move described at the time as a purely defensive measure.

The MoD said Britain still hopes to see a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria which brings an end to the violence and achieves genuine political transition.

A spokesman added: "In the absence of a political and diplomatic solution, we will not rule out any option in accordance with international law that might save innocent lives in Syria. As you'd expect, we continue to discuss a range of contingency plans with our partners, including the US. We're not going to speculate about details."

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