The British government is increasing humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and appears to be closer to providing arms to opposition fighters inside the conflict-ridden country.
UK’s assistance to Syria so far has been non-lethal but it is pushing for a relaxation of an EU arms embargo that could allow for weapons to be sent to opposition groups in Syria.
British Prime Minister David Cameron secured the commitment of European leaders that the subject of arming the rebels would be discussed at an EU summit late January.
Earlier this month Cameron said “I want a very clear message to go to President Assad that nothing is off the table” adding that “indifference and inaction are not options.”
British Minister for International Development, Alan Duncan, told Al Arabiya that while it could be very complicated for Brittan, the United States or the EU to be involved in Syria, it was important to keep all options open and allow for flexibility to respond to developments on ground.
“We have to keep all options open,” Duncan said. “We have to keep flexibility because if the Assad regime is on the edge of collapse it may suddenly become sensible to provide arms to the opposition in order to finish the job.”
According to the minister, current embargo would prevent any weapons being sent to opposition groups inside Syria, but this is also under review.
“At the moment there is an embargo but we are making that this is reviewed every three months and not annually in order to maximize the flexibility the international community might have to change the way in which it is addressing the Syrian problem.”
The UK, which is focusing on humanitarian assistance, announced on Friday an additional £15 million ($24.23 million) in aid to provide food, water and shelter for the Syrian people.
This brings the total UK support since the beginning of the 21-month conflict to £68.5 million.
Britain increasing its assistance to Syria follows a U.N. appeal to the international community on December 19 requesting $1.5 billion in additional funding to support aid efforts in Syria.
Number of Syrian refugees has exceeded 500,000, according to the U.N.’s refugee agency.
The British aid, which is for people inside Syria as well as refugees in neighbouring countries, will include basic items necessary during the winter season such as blankets and coats, clean water, medical supplies and food.
Eight armoured vehicles
To safeguard aid agencies working inside Syria and to enable those reaching people in the conflict areas, Britain will assist with the supply of eight armoured cars.
The deteriorating security conditions in Syria are stopping aid agencies from reaching people in need of help and putting the lives of Syrians and humanitarian workers at risk.
The minister said that armoured vehicles would facilitate the “dangerous exercise” of aid delivery in Syria which has already claimed the lives of U.N. staffers and Syrian Red Crescent workers.
“We don’t say who we are delivering our aid through because we want to keep them safe but I hope that these armoured vehicles will help them feel safer when they are delivering aid within Syria.”