The UK Government has announced that it is prepared to supply weapons directly to the Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State (IS) militants in northern Iraq.
At an emergency Cobra meeting, UK Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to favourably consider any request for direct military assistance, including weapons, from the Kurdish authorities.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: "It is vital that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are able to stop the advance of Isil terrorists across the country.
"We will also continue our work to ensure that Kurdish forces have the military supplies they require, including transporting more equipment from Eastern Europe.
"The foreign secretary will use tomorrow’s meeting of foreign ministers from across Europe to press for better coordination of aid and military supplies to Iraq."
It is expected that the UK would initially supply weapons and ammunition and other hi-tech equipment, such as night-vision goggles, to Kurdish fighters, who have appealed to the international community for heavy weapons.
Responding to the news, Kurdistan National Security Council head Masrour Barzani was quoted by the Guardian as saying: "If it’s true, we welcome and appreciate the British decision to supply us with the effective weapons that we’ve been asking for."
The UK has already agreed to transport Soviet-era weapons to the Kurds on behalf of other European Union countries, and is also air-dropping humanitarian aid to thousands of Yazidi refugees stranded on Mount Sinjar.
Kurdish fighters have reportedly received weapons from the US and France, while Germany is preparing to deliver military equipment, including body armour, night-vision goggles, mine-detection gear and armoured vehicles.
Meanwhile, the UN has declared a level three emergency in Iraq, which is the highest level of humanitarian crisis.
UN Secretary General for Iraq special representative Nickolay Mlad said: "Given the scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe, this measure will facilitate [the] mobilisation of additional resources in goods, funds and assets to ensure a more effective response to the humanitarian needs of populations affected by forced displacements."
Image: UK supplies being checked before being air-dropped over northern Iraq. Photo: Cpl Neil Bryden RAF/MoD/Crown Copyright.