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Hague: Assad should step aside now

By Joseph Willits 
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Yesterday William Hague made a statement to the House of Commons on the events in the Middle East and North Africa. Although much of the news from the region had been dominated by the alleged Iranian terror threat and the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Hague began with news from Libya and Syria - the two countries seemingly contrasted in terms of diplomatic success.


Despite the Foreign Secretary carefully avoiding recent reports from Amnesty about Libya's NTC involvement in toture and illegal detention, he once again reiterated the continuing "profound transformation" occurring in Libya. The government, he said were "supporting the NTC’s own plans for political transition in Libya, through the Friends of Libya group". Hague said that £20.6 million in funds had been allocated to help stabilise the country, provide aid to assist with law and order, for essential basic services, and the remolval of landmines. NATO would also continue to operate in Libya "as long as is necessary at the request of the NTC".

On Gaddafi, Hague said his "location remains unknown" but indicated at the desire to get him caught. Red notices have been issued by INTERPOL for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam.  "No state should harbour any of these fugitives from justice" Hague said. With the remnants of Gaddafi support in Bani Walid and Sirte, with ongoing fighting in these places, Hague said it was the intention of the NTC "to declare the liberation of Libya once Sirte has fallen". After which, the NTC would "move swiftly to form a Transitional Government within 30 days and to hold elections for a Constitutional Assembly within the following eight months".


Hague talked of the regret at the rejection of the tabled draft UN Security Council Resolution, calling for increased sanctions of the Syrian regime and an end to violence. He accused China and Russia, who blocked the resolution, of choosing "to side with a brutal regime rather than with the people of Syria". On the 24th September, more EU sanctions of the Syrian regime were implemented.  Hague said:

"They now target a total of 56 regime figures and 18 Syrian entities and include an arms embargo and a ban on the purchase, import or transport from Syria of crude oil and petroleum products".

Yet again, Hague talked of Syria's future being without President Assad, saying that "too much blood has been spilled for this regime to recover its credibility. President Assad should step aside now and allow others to take forward reform". His comments following Alistair Burt's meeting with senior members of the Syrian National Council.

Hague showed his commitment to protecting the Syrian expatriate community in the UK, after revelations of the Syrian embassy in London intimidating and harrassing protestors. For the third time this year Syrian ambassador Sami Khiyami was summoned to the Foreign Office, and told "any harassment or intimidation of Syrians in our country is unacceptable and will not be tolerated".


Hague's statement to the Commons was dominated by events in Libya and Syria. However, he welcomed the first free elections to be held in Tunisia, and the deal agreed between Israel and Hamas for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Outside of the issue of Shalit's release, Hague offered a warning to the Israelis, saying that "time is slipping away for them to act in their own strategic interest" calling for an end to new settlement building. The Israeli government must, he said, "take bolder steps than Israeli leaders have been prepared to do in recent years". Hague also said that aims towards "a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become more urgent".


Hague seemed cautious to condemn, and to confirm outright, Iranian involvement in a plot to assasinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington. He said "there are indications that this deplorable plot was directed by elements of the Iranian regime" and if confirmed would "appear to constitute a major escalation in Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism outside its borders".

The Government has been careful in its accusations directed towards Bahrain. Even now, the language used towards Bahrain is of "opportunity". On the issue of doctors and nurses being tried in a military court for attending to protestors, Hague said he welcomed the cases to now be tried in a civil court, and the publication of a report by the Independent Commission of Inquiry. This was, Hague said, "a major opportunity for Bahrain to demonstrate that it will adhere to international standards, meet its human rights commitments and take action when abuses are identified." 

You can read Hague's statement in full here. 


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