Germany expels Syrian diplomats
Published Monday, December 10, 2012
Germany on Monday expelled four employees of the Syrian embassy in Berlin in a move to curb ties to the Syrian government as EU foreign ministers Monday met the head of the newly formed Syrian opposition coalition.
"We are sending a clear message with the expulsion of four Syrian embassy staff that we are reducing relations with the Assad regime to an absolute minimum," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement.
"We are counting on the (opposition) national coalition growing more stable and developing as soon as possible functioning institutions for the political transition," he added.
The ministry said that Syria's acting envoy to Berlin had been informed of the decision earlier Monday and that the staff had until Thursday "to leave their posts."
Before the meeting with Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, the head of Syria’s opposition block, Westerwelle told reporters that the coalition “represents the legitimate interests of the Syrian people."
The European Union currently recognizes the coalition as "legitimate representatives of the aspirations of the Syrian people," which falls short of recognizing it outright as a potential successor government.
Full recognition could allow Western powers to legally arm rebel forces seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
Germany had expelled its Syrian ambassador in May, along with France, Britain, Italy and Spain following a massacre of more than 100 people in the Houla region, north of Homs.
On the ground in Syria, Islamist militants led by the radical Al-Nusra Front seized a strategic army base in the northern province of Aleppo after weeks of fierce fighting, according to a UK-based opposition NGO.
The jihadist group that captured the base at Sheikh Suleiman is not officially a member of the Free Syrian Army, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Elsewhere, the army carried out air strikes on suburbs of the capital, amid fierce clashes in Damascus province.
Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper said the army on Sunday "dealt heavy blows to Al-Nusra Front gunmen linked to the al-Qaeda network in several regions of Damascus province and Aleppo."
Soldiers also attacked gunmen in the Tadamun and Hajar Aswad districts of southern Damascus, "killing or wounding dozens of them," it said.
Syria’s national news agency on Monday said the army clashed with rebels in the Damascus countryside, "killing a number of terrorists."
The agency added that army attacks killed 10 rebel in the Sheikh Mohyeddin neighborhood of Damascus, and “eliminated” dozens of others across the country.