UK has ‘encouraging’ talks with Syria opposition
UK has ‘encouraging’ talks with Syria opposition
Hague said he had pressed Ahmed Moaz Al-Khatib and his two deputies, who are on their first visit to a Western capital since a united Syrian opposition was formed last weekend, on the need to be inclusive and to respect human rights.
“I’m encouraged by what I’ve heard and seen from the leaders of the coalition,” he said after meeting the trio at the Foreign Office, adding that he would make a statement to Parliament on the issue next week.
Earlier, Hague said in a BBC radio interview that Britain was re-examining a European Union embargo that prevents the arming of the opposition, but stressed that London was currently only offering nonlethal support.
France, Turkey and the Gulf states have so far granted official recognition to the new Syrian grouping, and Hague said Britain was inclined to follow suit.
“We would like to be able at an early stage to recognize them as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” he told reporters.
“I wanted to meet them myself before the United Kingdom takes that step. We need their assurances about being inclusive of all communities, we need to see that they have genuine support within Syria.”
Hague said he had stressed the importance of respecting minority rights, of committing to a democratic future for Syria and of taking a stand against the “abuse, violence and rape” committed by the Assad regime. “I’m encouraged by their response to that ... and we’ll continue to work on this over the next few days. I will make a further statement to our Parliament about this next week,” he said. Hague’s talks with Khatib and his deputies Riad Seif and Suhair Al-Atassi was followed by a broader meeting involving Western and Gulf powers. Khatib then heads to Paris today for a meeting with French President Francois Hollande.
Britain is pushing for a new international approach to the conflict, in which more than 39,000 people have died since the uprising against Bashar Assad’s regime erupted 20 months ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Last week, London announced it would begin direct talks with military figures in Syria’s armed opposition groups as it sought a way out of the violence.
“We can’t stand still. We can’t just say we will leave things as they are in Syria because it is a gravely deteriorating situation. But how we respond has to be well-judged, well thought-through,” Hague said yesterday.
Syria will be on the agenda at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, with the arms embargo likely to be up for discussion.
France’s foreign minister on Thursday raised the prospect of easing the EU embargo to allow rebels to have defensive weapons. Hague said no decision had yet been made on this, but confirmed that the prospect of providing military support to the opposition had been discussed at a meeting of Britain’s national security council on Thursday.
In a BBC radio interview shortly before yesterday’s talks, he said: “We will discuss with the opposition today giving them more non-lethal assistance, not arms but other practical assistance that we can send that helps save lives.
Prince William on first official royal visit to Occupied Territories and Israel
- The second-in-line to the British throne is due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
- There is a pretty naked desire to build relationships and Israel is a warm target for an increase in trade
LONDON: Prince William will embark on the first official visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories by a member of the British royal family on Sunday.
But even with more than 120 Palestinians killed in protests in Gaza during recent weeks and controversy still surrounding the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, the second-in-line to the throne is not expected to talk politics.
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), told Arab News that the four-day tour is likely to focus on making trade deals in preparation for Britain’s departure from the EU next year, rather than on addressing the moribund Middle East peace process.
“There is a pretty naked desire to build relationships and Israel is a warm target for an increase in trade,” he said.
The visit risks “normalizing” the abusive regime under which Palestinians live, he added.
“Of course Prince William has to go to both the Israeli and Palestinian sectors or there would have been outrage. But there is a risk of his visit making it appear more acceptable and normal to carry out abuses of international law like the blockade of Gaza,” Doyle said.
William begins his Middle Eastern tour on Sunday in Jordan, a long-time ally of Britain. On Tuesday he will move on to Jerusalem, where he will visit Yad Vashem, the official memorial to Holocaust victims, meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and later attend a football event with a mixed Arab and Jewish team.
On Wednesday he will meet young activists, both Arab and Jewish, who are involved in education and social programs, and also cross into the Occupied Palestinian Territories to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah before attending an event focusing on Palestinian refugees.
He is due to deliver a speech at a reception hosted by the American consul in Jerusalem. However, protocol prevents him from making any remarks that might be deemed partisan. Doyle told Arab News this was a pity in view of how William’s mother, the late Princess Diana, championed justice for the oppressed.
“It is a pity that someone of his status, who clearly cares about his mother’s legacy, cannot give voice to real major concerns about the treatment of the Palestinians and the human rights abuses that are daily issues for them under Israeli control but which will be airbrushed out,” he said.
“Yes, he will see co-operative programs and Arabs and Jews playing football together, but the reality is that the Palestinian footballers can only travel to matches with Israeli permission.”
William was a surprise choice for the visit. Many expected the task to fall to his father, Prince Charles, who has more experience of countries which are politically extremely sensitive. But it is thought he was chosen because his youth chimes better with young Israelis working in hi-tech fields who he is scheduled to meet. Among Palestinians, his presence will barely register, said Doyle.
“I hope the language can be found for him to say something to his Israeli hosts, that his visit will be more than window-dressing, but the reality is it’s very unlikely. So the visit won’t register as important with Palestinians. They don’t want to be part of some tourist show or box-ticking exercise,” he said.