Labour has ‘doubts’ on lifting rebel arms ban

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said yesterday he had “very serious doubts” about William Hague’s decision to support lifting the European arms embargo on Syrian rebels.

He said the Foreign Secretary’s support for opening up the possibility of supplying weapons to Syrian opposition groups risked jeopardising a proposed peace conference in Geneva.

Mr Hague has insisted here were no current plans to arm the rebels and that the lifting of the European Union embargo was a bid to increase the pressure on all sides to attend the peace talks.

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But Mr Alexander said the country was already “awash” with weapons and the prospect of rebels being armed meant incentives to attend the peace conference were “pointing in the wrong direction”.

He said: “I think western European politicians have a responsibility to be clear with the rebels that actually the Geneva two [peace] process is the way forward.

“And if we are saying listen, if you don’t turn up at these talks there is the prospect that Europe will provide you with arms, I think the risk is that the incentives are pointing in the wrong direction.”

l A new poll published yesterday suggests that arming rebel forces is supported by fewer than a quarter of the UK public.

According to an Opinium survey, just 24 per cent back giving weapons or military supplies to the rebels, though 58 per cent believe they should get humanitarian aid. More than three quarters (78 per cent) said the UK remains too stretched by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to engage in a new conflict.

Nearly as many (72 per cent) believe the UK could no longer afford to act as a major military power or should retreat to protecting only its own borders and delivering emergency humanitarian help (69 per cent).