The British government may consider arming the Syrian opposition movement, William Hague has indicated.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday, the foreign secretary said that while no decisions had yet been made, the UK would consider taking "additional steps" if the bloody conflict was not resolved in the near future.
Hague confirmed that the EU arms embargo on Syria had been extended by just three months until 1 March, rather than for 12 months as had been planned.
This means Britain and other EU nations would not have to wait for a whole year to provide arms to the Syrian rebels if they so wished.
"No decisions have yet been made to change the support we provide to the Syrian National Coalition or the Syrian people," he said.
"But European countries now have the flexibility to consider taking additional steps to try to save lives if there is no progress in the near future.
"Clearly the best outcome for the Syrian people would be a diplomatic breakthrough, bring an end to the bloodshed and establishing a new Syrian government able to restore stability.
He added: "However, we must keep open options to help save lives in Syria and to assist opposition groups opposed to extremism if the violence continues. We should send a strong signal to Assad that all options are on the table. We will therefore seek to amend the EU sanctions so that the possibility of additional assistance is not closed off."
Hague condemned the "intransigence and brutality" of the Assad regine and said there was a serious risk that the violence worsen in the coming months.
If that happens, the international community’s response will have to be stepped up," he said. "We will not rule out any options to save lives and protect civilians in the absence of a political transition in Syria."