‘Friends of Syria’ recognise rebel coalition
More than 100 Arab and Western states recognised the Syrian National Coalition as the country’s sole representative on Wednesday, but France ruled out arming insurgent groups, citing suspected links to al Qaeda.
More than 100 countries on Wednesday recognised a new Syrian opposition coalition, opening the way for greater humanitarian assistance to the forces battling Bashar al-Assad and possibly even military aid, France’s foreign minister said.
The formation of the Syrian National Coalition appears to be the step the international community has been waiting for to extend deeper assistance to the opposition, which had been criticised for not being sufficiently organised or representative.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the “Friends of the Syrian People” conference meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, “extraordinary progress”. He noted that the European Union is now renewing its weapons embargo on Syria every three months, rather than annually, in order to be more flexible as the situation on the ground changes, but he ruled out an immediate assessment.
“The fact that the coalition, which is asking for the right to defend itself, is now being recognised by a hundred countries – yesterday the US and first France – I think this is a very important point,” he said. “But for now we are not moving on this.”
Fabius cited suspicions over groups blacklisted by the United States as a “problem” for both France and Britain. Many Western powers believe that some rebel groups, notably the al-Nusra Front, have links to al Qaeda and will seek to impose Islamic law if they succeed in toppling Assad.
“The United States considered that this group should be put on the terrorist list ... As far as France is concerned, we’re going to study (al-Nusra’s role) in detail, because it’s an issue that cannot be avoided,” he said. “There is no question of putting jihadis into this mechanism.”
“The main difficulty is to embolden the resistance and accelerate Assad’s fall without destroying existing institutions. We don’t want to go down the Iraq path,” he said.
Fabius said the meeting had exposed differences of opinion on how the al-Nusra Front should be treated, with Arab states asking why a group which has proved its effectiveness against Assad’s forces had been sidelined.
The leader of Syria’s opposition coalition urged the United States to review its designation of the group, saying that religion was a legitimate motivation for rebel fighters.
Opposition spokesman Walid al-Bunni called for “real support” and not just recognition. The Syrian National Coalition, formed in November during a conference in Doha, Qatar, has been calling for increased international support, including military material.
Some of that support appears to be forthcoming
(FRANCE 24 with wires)