Britain will give nearly $800,000 to the Syrian opposition, providing "practical non-lethal support" to those calling for the ouster of President Bashar Assad, the British foreign secretary announced Thursday.
The British government says it has already provided nearly $716,000 in such support to the Syrian opposition over the last eight months.
The new aid could include training for Syrian human rights activists on recording abuses committed during the Assad regime's crackdown on the uprising, Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
"It will help hard-pressed opposition groups and brave civil society organizations inside and outside the country to document the regime’s violations and gain the skills and resources they need to help build a democratic future for Syria," Hague said.
Britain’s stated goals are to help Syrian dissidents become a credible alternative to the Assad regime, improve communication, ease access to humanitarian assistance and "develop the necessary capability to realize an orderly transition to a more democratic Syria."
The question of how to back the Syrian opposition has divided nations hoping to stop Assad, who has been condemned for the brutal crackdown. More than 10,000 people are believed to have been killed in the conflict, including regime forces, opponents and civilians.
"The behavior of the Assad regime so far is as futile as it is morally indefensible," Hague said.
The United States and other nations that have voiced support for the Syrian opposition are weighing how to help the resistance. The idea of arming the rebels has worried some U.S. officials, who fear that Islamic militants may be among the insurgents, some of whom have been accused of kidnapping and torture.
Syria recently agreed to a peace plan put forward by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but the opposition was skeptical that Assad would hew to its demands. The plan endorsed by the U.N. Security Council includes a cease-fire, political talks, humanitarian aid and open access for the media.
Despite talk of peace, violence has continued to rage in the country. Opposition activists from the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, said 51 people had been killed Thursday, including six children. Six of them were tortured, it said.
Syrian state media said two army colonels were assassinated Thursday in the city of Aleppo by what it termed terrorists.
Assad said Thursday that the rebels must promise to halt violence if the peace plan brokered by Annan is to work, state media reported. That could complicate efforts to bring the two sides to the table.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Anti-regime protesters hold up a huge pre-Baath Syrian flag, which has been adopted by the Syrian opposition movement, during a demonstration against Syrian President Bashar Assad in Beirut on March 17. Credit: Anwar Amro / AFP/Getty Images