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Britain says will not work with Assad to combat IS

Britain will not work with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to combat Islamic State (IS) fighters in the country and his permission would not be needed for any military intervention, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Friday (Aug 22).

LONDON: Britain will not work with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to combat Islamic State (IS) fighters in the country and his permission would not be needed for any military intervention, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Friday (Aug 22). Hammond also said Britain had no plans to arm moderate fighters in Syria's civil war, and insisted that Western troops on the ground in Iraq would only make the situation worse.

Responding to comments made by former army chief Richard Dannatt, who argued that Britain should consider some kind of alliance with Assad, Hammond warned that it would deepen sectarian rifts in the region. "We may very well find that we are fighting, on some occasions, the same people that he is but that doesn't make us his ally," Hammond told BBC radio.

"One of the first things you learn in the Middle East is that my enemy's enemy is not necessarily my friend. It would poison what we are trying to achieve in separating moderate Sunni opinion from the poisonous ideology of IS," he added.

Hammond also doubted Dannatt's claims that any intervention to oust IS in Syria would need Assad's approval. "I don't know where the idea comes from that Assad has to assent to a military intervention in his country. There is a civil war raging in his country," he said.

Britain could use its "military prowess" as part of any international attempts to halt IS's advance, but would not send be sending ground troops, Hammond added. "This is not a fight that can be won by Western military force on the ground - that would only serve to reinforce the narrative that IS is using to attract Sunni supporters," he argued. "This needs to be a fight dealt with by Iraqis on the ground."

Britain will consider "sensible" requests for military supplies from Kurdish forces - it is already transporting ammunition from eastern Europe to the capital Arbil - and would be open to requests from the new Iraqi government. But it will maintain its policy of providing only non-lethal support to moderate Syrian fighters, although the situation is under constant review, he said.

He also revealed that Britain was closely monitoring the situation in Amerli, a small Shia Turkmen community currently surrounded by IS forces, and that it would be willing in principle to join in an international effort to send support to the besieged people.