The UK government recognises a coalition of Syrian rebel forces as the "sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people, Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced.
In a Commons statement on the situation in the Middle East on 20 November 2012, Mr Hague said he had received "assurances" from representatives of the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces about their commitment to uphold human rights and work for a democratic future.
"It is strongly in the interests of Syria, of the wider region and of the United Kingdom that we support them and deny space to extremist groups," the foreign secretary added.
"A credible alternative to the Assad regime is emerging that has the growing support of the Arab League, the European Union, the United States and an increasing number of other countries."
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander welcomed Mr Hague's decision. "Recognition is a vital step forward," he said.
Earlier in his Commons statement, Mr Hague also warned that time was running out for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people.
Mr Hague emphasised that the UK government holds Hamas principally responsible for the start of recent hostilities between Gaza and Israel, but he also called on the Israeli government to show restraint.
He said: "There is no military resolution to the crisis in Gaza or to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace becomes harder to achieve with each confrontation, each loss of life.
"The only way to give the Palestinian people the state that they need and deserve, and the Israeli people the security and peace they are entitled to, is through a negotiated two-state solution, and time for this is now running out.
"This requires Israelis and Palestinians to return to negotiations, Israel to stop illegal settlement building, Palestinian factions to reconcile with each other and the international community, led by the United States, and supported by European nations to make a huge effort to push the peace process forward urgently."
Meanwhile, Mr Alexander urged the government to consider backing the Palestinian Authority's bid for enhanced status at the UN General Assembly.
Talk of a peace process was misguided, he said, when "there is no peace and there is no process".