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U.K. to Equip Syrian Rebels Against Nerve Gas Strikes

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

Smoke rises from Syrian government airstrikes and shelling in the city of Homs earlier this month. The United Kingdom on Tuesday said it would supply Syrian opposition forces with protection against possible chemical warfare strikes by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad (AP Photo/Lens Young Homsi). Smoke rises from Syrian government airstrikes and shelling in the city of Homs earlier this month. The United Kingdom on Tuesday said it would supply Syrian opposition forces with protection against possible chemical warfare strikes by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad (AP Photo/Lens Young Homsi).

WASHINGTON -- The United Kingdom on Tuesday said it would rush breathing filters, drugs and paper test strips to Syria for protecting resistance fighters against possible nerve gas strikes by President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The assistance would include 5,000 “escape hoods” effective against sarin nerve agent for 20 minutes, as well as “pre-treatment tablets” capable of giving victims more time to obtain antidote from medical personnel, Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement to lawmakers.

Deliveries to the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition would begin “on or after” Aug. 3, he said.

The British government intends the materials to help avoid casualties, but not to encourage combat in contaminated areas, Hague stressed. Paper strips responsive to chemical warfare agents would “inform decisions on whether or not to remain in an area and so potentially save lives,” he said.

News of the $1 million in aid came as senior British military officials reportedly warned that sending light weapons to the rebels would probably not curb Assad’s momentum in the country’s civil war. The conflict is believed to have killed more than 90,000 people since 2011, primarily through conventional means.

“The rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria and the urgent need to support the Syrian opposition means that the government needs to act as soon as possible,” Hague stated.

Assad’s government has denied employing chemical weapons in combat. However, Damascus has barred a U.N. team from entering the country to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into incidents of alleged use, which include at least nine claims put forward by the United Kingdom, France and the United States.

The Syrian government has received Russian support in pressing inspectors to focus exclusively on a single purported sarin strike near the city of Aleppo. Damascus has blamed rebels for the March 19 event linked to 26 deaths.

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