Foreign Secretary says no option is off the table in attempt to end conflictSyria now the number one destination for jihadists anywhere in the worldMr Hague says UK wants to support ‘moderates’ in war against Assad
Death toll doubles to 80,000 and 6.8million have been displaced
Up to 100 Britons have joined fighting in Syria, Foreign Secretary William Hague revealed today as he warned the bloody conflict has become a honey pot for jihadists.
Mr Hague told MPs that the battle to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s government forces risked fuelling extremism.
He said the UK was open to ‘every way of strengthening moderates and saving lives rather than the current trajectory of extremism and murder’.
By providing more support to mainstream elements of the opposition forces, the British government hopes to undermine the radical jihadist elements who threaten to seize control of the country.
Thousands have died and millions of people have been displaced by the two-year war, he said.
And he said the case for lifting the embargo on arming the rebels was now ‘compelling’.
The European Union is due to reconsider the ban on providing weapons to rebels by the end of this month, although the UK has already given non-lethal support including armoured vehicles and body armour.
Mr Hague told the Commons that the conflict is ‘undoubtedly contributing to radicalisation’ in Syria.
‘Syrian people are facing a regime that is using warplanes, helicopters, heavy artillery, tanks, cluster munitions and even ballistic missiles against them, often without them having the means to defend themselves and their communities.
‘The conflict is therefore creating opportunities for extremist groups. Syria is now the number one destination for jihadists anywhere in the world today, including approximately 70 to 100 individuals connected with the United Kingdom.’
‘We have to be open to every way of strengthening moderates and saving lives rather than the current trajectory of extremism,’ Mr Hague said in a statement to MPs.
He urged President Assad to take peace talks seriously, in an attempt to end the ‘regional catastrophe’.
Mr Hague added: ‘With every week that passes we are coming closer to the collapse of Syria and a regional catastrophe, with the lives of tens of thousands more Syrians at stake.
‘We are determined to make every effort to end the carnage, to minimise the risks to the region, and to protect the security of the United Kingdom.’
The death toll from the conflict has doubled in the first five months of 2013 and now stands at 80,000 people.
More than 4million Syrians have been ‘displaced’ and some 6.8million are in ‘desparate need’, including 3million children, Mr Hague added.
Last month the European Union’s security chief Gilles de Kerchove warned hundreds of young men from across Europe are fighting with rebel forces in Syria.
Gilles de Kerchove said those fighting to bring down President Assad, including many Britons, will be ‘radicalised’ before returning home where they will pose a ‘serious threat’ to national security.
It is feared some will become members of groups with links to al-Qaeda before launching terror attacks at home.
Mr de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator, said: ‘We are concerned, of course.’
He said most of the Europeans agreeing to fight with the rebels were being converted by radicals in Syria.
‘Not all of them are radical one day when they leave but most likely many of them will be radicalised there, they will be trained,’ he told the BBC.
‘And as we have seen in previous situations this might create a serious threat when they get back.’
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