Hague urges Damascus to negotiate with Syria opposition

British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Thursday urged President Bashar al-Assad's regime to respond positively to an offer of dialogue by Syrian opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib.

"There has been a very important offer of negotiation by Khatib of the National Coalition. It is important that that offer is responded to with serious negotiations by the Assad regime," Hague told reporters after holding talks in Beirut with Lebanese President Michel Sleiman.

"A political agreement on a transition is the only way forward to bring to an end this terrible and unacceptable loss of life," he said of the nearly two-year conflict which has claimed around 70,000 lives according to the United Nations.

The British minister also called on Assad to step down.

"It's time to go," he responded, when asked what his message was for Assad.

"The people of Syria ... have experienced enough suffering. Such destruction, such loss of life, such a threat to the stability of the whole region should not be endured because one person wishes to stay in power," he said.

National Coalition chief Khatib at the end of January offered to negotiate with regime officials who have no "blood on their hands" -- naming Vice President Faruq al-Sharaa as a possible pointman for the talks.

Hague, who arrived in Beirut on Wednesday and also met with Premier Nijib Mikati, expressed British support for the stability of Lebanon, which is sharply divided between supporters and opponents of the Assad regime.

He further announced that his country would increase military assistance for the Lebanese Armed Forces and help train over 2,000 troops in the coming year.