UK Ups Syria Opposition Diplomatic Status, U.S. Says 'Raw Data' Suggest Chlorine Used in Conflictإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Britain has upgraded the status of the London office of the Syrian opposition to a mission, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the Syrian presidential vote planned for June as an "insult" and a "farce."
The boost to the National Coalition headed by Ahmad Jarba comes 10 days after the United States extended similar recognition to the umbrella group.
After a meeting of the Friends of Syria group in London, Hague said Britain would provide an extra £30 million ($50 million) in "practical support to help the opposition" against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"We have also decided to upgrade the status of the National Coalition's representative office here in London to a mission in recognition of the strength of our partnership," Hague said.
The Syrian government's last senior diplomat in London, a charge d'affaires, resigned in July 2012 in protest against the Assad regime's crackdown on protesters. Damascus had previously withdrawn its ambassador to Britain.
For his part, Kerry said in London: "Together we are agreed in saying that Assad's staged elections are a farce, they are an insult and they are a fraud."
Kerry also said he had seen "raw data" that suggests that chlorine has been used in the Syrian conflict, supporting accusations made by France against the regime.
"I have seen evidence ... it's not verified yet... hasn't been confirmed," he told reporters after a meeting of the Friends of Syria group in London.
"But I've seen the raw data that suggests that there may have been, as France has suggested, a number of instances in which chlorine has been used in the conduct of war.
"If it has, and if it could be proven, then that would be against the agreements of the chemical weapons treaty, against the weapons convention that Syria has signed up to."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday that the regime is believed to have used chemical weapons, including chlorine, in 14 attacks since October 2013.
Syria signed the Chemical Weapons Convention last year as part of a deal to surrender its chemical weapons arsenal after it was accused of a sarin attack in the suburbs of Damascus.
Possessing chlorine is not a violation of the convention, but the treaty prevents the use of the gas as a weapon.
Human Rights Watch, the New York-based watchdog, also said this week that the evidence "strongly suggests" Syria's government used chlorine gas on three towns in mid-April.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons watchdog said last month it would look into the attacks and has dispatched a team to carry out investigations on the ground in Syria.