Britain stops aid funding in Syrian opposition areas ahead of regime offensive

The UK government has announced it will end funding for some aid programmes in rebel-held areas of Syria, which have become too risky ahead of an imminent government offensive.

The Department for International Development determined the programmes in Idlib, northwestern Syria, to be "unsustainable" as pro-regime forces begin to move in.

An attempt to create an independent police force would also be scrapped from September, while projects funding local councils were being reviewed and would likely be halted by the end of the financial year.

Instead, the focus in northern Syria is now on basic life-saving needs, providing medicines and medical equipment and water and sanitation support.

Syrian onlookers gather around rescue teams clearing the rubble in the morning of April 10, 2018 in the northwestern city of Idlib.Credit:

General Adeeb al-Shallaf, founder of the Free Syrian Police (FSP), a force of 3,300 mostly unarmed officers in Syria, confirmed that the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark had all cut funds.

"As the situation on the ground in some regions has become increasingly difficult, we have reduced support for some of our non-humanitarian programming, but continue to deliver vital support to help those most in need and to improve security and stability in the country," a UK government spokeswoman said.

It is feared a Syrian government and Russian attack on the province of Idlib – the last remaining rebel stronghold – would be a bloodbath.

Some 2.7 million people are trapped in Idlib, which is controlled by a complex patchwork of jihadists and more moderate rebels.

However, the UK government also announced last week that British aid money is to be used for the first time to protect civilians from deadly airstrikes by providing them with early warnings of attacks through social media.

The government has spent £152 million pounds on humanitarian programmes in Syria for the financial year 2017-2018.

Britain had increased its aid as well as supply of armoured vehicles and training to Syria’s opposition in 2013.

In 2011, the United States adopted a policy that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave power. But Washington and its Western allies, including Britain, have subsequently watched Assad’s forces, backed by Iran and then Russia, claw back territory and secure his position.