U.K. Gives Syrian Rebels Armored Cars Amid Refugee Flood

The U.K. announced new types of aid for Syria’s opposition, including armored vehicles and body armor, as the number of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria for neighboring countries reached 1 million.

“We cannot look the other way while international law and human rights are flouted,” Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament in London today. “We cannot step back from a crisis that could destabilize the heart of the Middle East, and it would be the height of irresponsibility to ignore potential threats to our own security.”

The U.K. will provide $20 million in equipment, training and support for the opposition, Hague said. The four-wheel-drive armored vehicles are intended to allow opposition leaders to move around more freely. Other help will include assistance in restoring power and water supplies, and to collect and incinerate waste to stem disease.

Syria’s civil war has evolved along largely sectarian lines, with many in the Sunni majority supporting the rebels and much of the Shiite Muslim, Christian and Alawite minorities backing President Bashar Al-Assad. The two-year-old conflict has killed about 70,000 people.

The increase in the number of refugees fleeing Syria for Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other countries was announced today by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

‘Full-Scale Disaster’

“With a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally, and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is spiraling toward full-scale disaster,” Guterres said today in a statement. “This tragedy has to be stopped.”

The UNHCR is adjusting a December plan to deal with a projected 1.1 million refugees by June, after more than 400,000 people fled Syria since the beginning of this year. That plan is only 25 percent funded, the agency said.

Hague said Britain is increasingly concerned that Assad may use chemical weapons against rebel forces. The U.K. is to supply kits to allow those in the country to test whether such weapons have been used.

“If a political solution to the crisis in Syria is not found and the conflict continues, we and the rest of the European Union will have to be ready to move further, and we should not rule out any option for saving lives,” the foreign secretary told lawmakers. “Our policy cannot be static nor our position indifferent.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry indicated yesterday that he doesn’t anticipate a shift in policy to permit the sending of weapons to the Syrian rebels.

“That’s not my job to do,” he said in an interview with ABC News in Doha, the last stop on a trip to Europe and the Mideast. “That’s the president of the United States’ decision, and I don’t think this is a president who ever takes any option off the table. But for the moment, he feels like what we’re doing is the right policy.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net; Giles Broom in Geneva at gbroom@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Eddie Buckle at ebuckle@bloomberg.net

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