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British officials planning talks with Syrian armed groups

Published: November 7, 2012 | 6:03 am
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Downing Street says Britain is to begin talks with armed Syrian rebels in a bid to unite the opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The announcement came as David Cameron arrived in Jordan on the latest stage of his visit to the Middle East.
Mr Cameron will discuss the fighting in Syria with the King of Jordan and meet refugees from the conflict.
Downing Street said the talks between UK officials and Syrian rebels would take place in Jordan and Turkey.
A spokesman said Britain would not be arming the Syrian rebels, or giving them access to military advisers.

The UK is also to increase its humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees to more than £50m, making it the second largest donor after the United States.

Safe passage
The conflict has been high on the agenda in Mr Cameron’s talks with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during his three-day trip to the Gulf.

He said on Tuesday that he was prepared to see President Assad allowed safe passage out of Syria if that would help ensure a peaceful power shift.

But Mr Cameron insisted that he would “favour him facing the full force of international law and justice for what he’s done.”

Number 10 said the talks with Syrian rebels would help the UK “better understand the actual situation and the relationship between political and armed opposition groups.”

A spokesman said: “The government will make absolutely clear to these groups that they must respect human rights and humanitarian law standards.

“We will also call on them to work with aid agencies to facilitate vital humanitarian access.”

More than 30,000 people have been killed in the violence in Syria which began last year.

Defence partnership
An estimated 2.5m people in the country need humanitarian assistance, and the number of refugees in the surrounding region is predicted to almost double to 710,000 by the end of December.

It is thought that Mr Cameron is the first leader of a G20 country to visit Syrian refugees in Jordan and see for himself the conditions they face.

On Tuesday Britain and the United Arab Emirates announced a joint defence partnership, following Mr Cameron’s two-day visit to the country.

Downing Street said the deal would involve “close collaboration” on the Typhoon jet – although the UAE has not agreed to buy the fighter.

Britain is looking to sell Typhoon jets to Dubai and Saudi Arabia, despite allegations of human rights abuses.

It is Mr Cameron’s second visit to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as prime minister.


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