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Volume 554: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2012

The humanitarian situation in Syria is dire. We have provided £53.5 million of assistance so far and are urging others to increase donations to the UN appeal.

Forty thousand dead, 2.5 million internally displaced, 200,000 refugees and, yesterday, more people killed in Syria by the Ba’athist regime than were killed in the whole of the Gaza conflict. President Obama has talked about “serious consequences” if Assad uses chemical weapons. Why are there no serious consequences already from the international community about what is going on in Syria, and what does President Obama mean by “serious consequences”?

The hon. Gentleman is familiar with the policy we have pursued towards Syria. There is no military solution in Syria; we are seeking a peaceful, political and diplomatic solution. We continue to do that, while recognising the new national coalition of the opposition, giving it increased but non-lethal assistance and delivering humanitarian aid on the scale I have described. I want to reiterate what President Obama has said—that any use of chemical or biological weapons would be even more abhorrent than anything we have seen so far. We have made it clear that this would draw a serious response from the international community. We have made that very clear to representatives of the Syrian regime and have said that we would seek to hold them responsible for such actions.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement a few minutes ago that he will shortly have further discussions with Russia. How will he respond if the Russians make it clear that they are not going to allow a western-backed Sunni rebellion to overthrow the Alawite regime?

My right hon. Friend’s question poses a number of questions. As we have discussed before, the motivations of the opposition in Syria are very complex. Yes, there is of course a lot of Sunni influence, but people of many different religious affiliations are involved in the opposition. They are not merely western-backed—they are particularly Arab-backed, so I would not want to define them as a western-backed opposition. It is in Russia’s interest to agree to a diplomatic solution for a transitional Government in Syria, and I hope the Russians will see the arguments for that at the meetings this week and subsequently.