New Syria opposition receives mixed reception

A picture taken from the adjacent Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar shows people running in front of smoke after a Syrian aircraft bombed the strategic border town of Ras al-Ain on 13 November 2012. (Photo: AFP - Bulent Kilic)

Published Tuesday, November 13, 2012

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius urged world powers on Tuesday to recognize the newly formed Syrian opposition bloc, as the Syrian government accused the West of seeking to further destabilize the country.

"Our hope is that the different countries recognize the Syrian national coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. ... France's role is to make that hope possible," Fabius told reporters in Cairo.

After four days of talks in the Qatari capital Doha, Syrian opposition groups agreed on Sunday to unite under the banner of the National Coalition, headed by Muslim cleric Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib.

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Cairo welcomed the bloc and urged it to bring in more regime dissenters.

"The opposition has taken a huge step forward," said Fabius, who met earlier with both Khatib and George Sabra, the newly chosen head of the Syrian National Council, the exiled opposition group that agreed to join the wider opposition bloc.

However, France's defense minister and Britain's foreign minister both said on Tuesday that forming the new group under Khatib was an important step but not sufficient for full recognition as a government entitled to take over in Damascus, signalling internal disagreements in the West over how to approach Syria.

But Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faysal Mikdad described the new anti-government coalition as a “US-Qatari project” seeking to destroy the country.

“We believe that the opposition is not of Syrian making, as you noticed it is an American and Qatari production. ... And when the opposition isn't founded on this land or in this country, and when it does not secure the support of its countrymen, then it is of foreign arrangements, used to instill skepticism in the nation and for its destruction,” Mikdad told RT on Tuesday.

He added: “It is known that the western states withdrew a majority of their diplomatic representatives from Syria, and they now want to withdraw what's left of these missions, but this time through bloodshed.”

Fighting continued to rage across the country Tuesday, as Syrian state media reported that army soldiers “chased an armed terrorist group” out of the Damascus neighborhoods of al-Sbeineh, al-Sayyida Zainab, Zamalka and al-Tadamon.

The report added that the army attacked a rebel group that calls itself the “Liberating Damascus Brigade” in the Damascus countryside, “killing all its members including its leader, terrorist Mohammed Abdul Salam Idris, and seizing all their weapons and ammunition.”

In the Homs countryside, the army killed a number of rebels and destroyed several cars the military claims were used to transfer arms, SANA reported.

Opposition groups offered a different account of the day’s fighting, reporting that clashes and army shelling in the capital killed at least 41 people, most of them civilians, while warplanes again bombed Ras al-Ain near the Turkish border, and the town of Albu Kamal on the frontier with Iraq.

Al-Akhbar cannot independently verify casualty figures.

Tension also remained high in the Golan Heights, where Israeli military struck at targets for a third consecutive day.

Twenty months of conflict have created a vast humanitarian crisis, with more than 408,000 Syrians fleeing to neighboring countries and up to four million expected to need aid by early next year, according to the United Nations.

Fighting has also displaced 2.5 million civilians inside Syria, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent estimates.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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