£5m UK backing for Syria opposition

Britain will expand its support to the Syrian political opposition fighting President Bashar Assad with an extra £5 million of non-lethal practical assistance, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.

Mr Hague said the financial assistance would help protect civilians from "some of the worst of the violence".

He said: "So now in the absence of diplomatic progress, the United Kingdom will do much more. We will expand our support to the Syrian people and the Syrian political opposition with an extra £5 million in non-lethal practical assistance.

"This will help protect unarmed opposition groups, human rights activists and civilians from some of the worst of the violence. This is in addition to, and separate from, our humanitarian assistance."

Speaking at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr Hague said: "We expect that our assistance will include trauma and medical supplies for civilians in areas under regime control and could include items such as paramedic trauma kits, specialist trauma treatment, surgical equipment, field dressings, antibiotics, pain killers and water purification kits to respond to the cutting of fresh water supplies."

Mr Hague said assistance to the opposition would include communications equipment to "help political activists overcome the regime's communications blockade". The Foreign Secretary said: "It's well recognised that the situation in Syria is an affront to the conscience of humanity."

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander cautioned the Government against doing anything that would escalate the violence in Syria.

"Given that Syria has descended into civil war the Government needs to act with real care," he said. "The international community should be focused on de-escalating the violence in Syria, not escalating it.

"Alongside humanitarian aid for the refugees of this conflict, the Government should be focusing its efforts on better understanding the diverse opposition to Assad and supporting the efforts of the Arab League to unify that opposition around a credible plan for transition."

Amnesty International UK's Syria campaign manager Kristyan Benedict said: "The promise of training for human rights activists and citizen journalists is very welcome, and it will be important that this complements what the UN's own Commission of Inquiry on Syria is already trying to do."