London: British officials are secretly equipping Syrian rebels with satellite phones in a bid to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
The supply of the latest generation of handsets is part of the Foreign Office's mission to mould militias into a coalition capable of governing the country.
The phones, used by the Ministry of Defence, are designed for rugged environments and are shock, dust and water-resistant, the Daily Mail reports.
Whitehall sources also confirmed that the Foreign Office is teaching negotiation and ''stabilisation'' skills to opposition leaders, and advising on how to address the Syrian people.
According to military experts, the presence of Foreign Office officials and the provision of training and equipment to the opposition mean that British Special Forces are likely to be operating in Syria.
"The UK Government cannot give practical support to the rebels without a presence inside Syria, and any Foreign Office officials seeking to liaise with the opposition leaders would require close protection from Special Forces," ex-British Army commander Richard Kemp, a former member of the Government's Joint Intelligence Committee, said.
It said Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi spoke on the phone with Turkish and Qatari foreign ministers and demanded their intervention to help release them.
First Published: Sunday, August 05, 2012, 19:53