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International military chiefs hold talks on Syrian situation

December 11, 2012

An October 11, 2012 file photo shows Syrian rebel fighters holding up their guns as they shout slogans in a street in the northern city of Aleppo following shelling by government forces. -AFP Photo

LONDON: International military chiefs met in London to discuss the Syria conflict, a diplomatic source said Tuesday, after a report that they discussed plans to train rebels and give air and naval support.

General David Richards, the head of Britain's armed forces, held talks recently in London with military leaders from France, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and a US general, the Independent newspaper reported.

A British diplomatic source confirmed that the military leaders had held talks, but played down the idea that they discussed military intervention against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“What they were doing was sharing analysis about the situation on the ground and the strategic overview to help think through issues,” the British diplomatic source said.

“As far as I know they didn't explore options in any detail, certainly they didn't explore options for military intervention.”

The source added: “There are not any plans for military intervention.”

The Independent however said that during the meeting, which was organised at the request of Prime Minister David Cameron, the military chiefs held detailed strategic discussions about how to help the Syrian rebels.

Britain, France and the United States have pledged not to put “boots on the ground” to help the rebels, meaning Turkey would most likely host the training camps, the Independent said.

Britain's Ministry of Defence would not confirm the report and repeated its commitment to finding a diplomatic end to the conflict.

“In the absence of a political and diplomatic solution, we will not rule out any option in accordance with international law that might save innocent lives in Syria,” an MoD spokesman said.

He said Britain continued to discuss a “range of contingency plans with our partners, including the US” but refused to discuss details.

But the meeting reflects the growing international momentum towards ending the conflict in Syria.

Cameron held talks in London on Tuesday with Jordan's King Abdullah II during which they discussed the situation in Syria.

His Downing Street office said they “agreed on the need for international action to end the conflict through a political transition” and to respond to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria.

They also agreed on the need to support Syria's new national opposition coalition “as they continue to establish themselves as a credible, democratic and inclusive alternative to the Assad regime.”

Talk of arming the rebels has increased in recent weeks since the establishment of the coalition, with Britain saying last week it would press its European partners in March to amend the arms embargo on Syria to allow them to provide weapons to the opposition.