London: Britain is to begin talks with armed opposition groups in Syria as it seeks to help end the violence, Prime Minister David Cameron's office said today.
The government has authorised officials to have contacts with military representatives of the groups, Downing Street said, although government sources stressed the initative was about political dialogue, not providing weapons.
The announcement was made as Cameron toured a desert refugee camp for Syrians in northern Jordan, on the third and final leg of a tour of the Middle East that also took him to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Britain will also be increasing its aid to Syrian refugees by USD 22.5 million, Downing Street said, bringing the total to more than 50 million pounds.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya television yesterday, Cameron said he would support giving safe passage to President Bashar al-Assad if it meant ending the bloodshed in Syria.
He highlighted the need to help the opposition, without elaborating how.
"We must ask ourselves what more can we do: how can we help the opposition? How can we put the pressure on Assad? How can we work with partners in the region to turn this around?" Cameron said.
But when asked about arming the rebels, he said: "We are not currently planning to do that. We are a government under international law and we obey the law."
Media reports said Britain's envoy to the Syrian opposition, John Wilkes, would arrange meetings in third countries to initiate talks with the rebels.
British officials stressed that they would make clear to the Syrian groups that they must respect human rights.
Further details on the talks are due to be set out in a statement to the British parliament published later today.