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Iraq, Afghanistan Conflicts Stretch British Military, Poll Indicates

New poll suggests less than half of Britons support arming the opposition in Syria
Iraq, Afghanistan Conflicts Stretch British Military, Poll Indicates

Less than a quarter of the British public believes that their government should arm the militarized opposition groups in Syria, according to a poll conducted in the wake of Britain's support for lifting a European Union arms embargo.


Just 24 percentof those polled said they support giving weapons or military supplies to forces fighting the Syrian army. However more than half (58 percent) said they would support offering humanitarian aid.

The European Union last week lifted its arms embargo on Syria, with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague claiming that the policy was denying armed groups the right to defend themselves when they were "having every weapon that's ever been devised dropped on them."


A number of European states, led by Austria, continued to oppose lifting the embargo, but Britain insisted that it should be allowed to expire on Friday. Hague, in a concerted move with France aimed at forcing the Syrian government to the negotiating table, said that the decision gave the UK and others flexibility in responding to a worsening situation.


But an Opinium/Observer poll published on Saturday suggested public opinion would not be behind any military intervention, no matter how hands-off.


In a sign of the public's changing attitude towards Britain's role in the world, 78 percent of those polled said that they believe the UK is already too overstretched as a result of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, to intervene in a new conflict.


Nearly three quarters (72 percent) said they believe that the UK can no longer afford to act as a major military power. And over two thirds (69 percent) believe that the UK should restrict military operations to protecting UK territory and humanitarian aid in times of crisis.


Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, has also questioned the arms policy.


"How would the government prevent British-supplied weapons falling into the wrong hands, and how does supplying weapons help to secure a lasting peace?" Alexander asked.


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