Syria charges France with "hostility"

A Syrian rebel shoots during clashes with the Syrian army in the town of Harem on the outskirts of Idlib on 17 November 2012. (Photo: AP - Khalil Hamra)

Published Sunday, November 18, 2012

Syria on Sunday called France’s decision to host an ambassador from the Syrian opposition as "hostile," while fighting continued across the country.

France on Saturday invited the National Coalition, the newly formed Syrian opposition bloc, to send an envoy to Paris, after President Francois Hollande met its leader, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib.

"France is acting like a hostile nation," National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar told AFP in Tehran. "It's as if it wants to go back to the time of the occupation," he added in reference to the French mandate in Syria after World War I.

Haidar spoke as Iran prepared to host talks between Syrian officials and certain opposition groups. The National Coalition was not invited.

"Invitations were extended to all those who accept dialogue, not to those who refuse to talk as a matter of principle," Haidar said.

Opening the talks, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi warned against sending weapons to the rebels, saying this would threaten regional stability and increase the "risk of terrorism."

Russia reiterated its alignment with Iran on the issue of providing the coalition with weapons.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned, in a message to the Tehran meeting, against the risk of weapons ending up in the hands of "al-Qaeda and other extremist groups" seeking to seize Syria, Iran's official IRNA news agency said.

The opposition coalition, formed in Doha on November 11, says it is committed to building a provisional government composed of representatives of all ethnic and religious groups in Syria.

However, the coalition refuses to engage with the government in Damascus so long as President Bashar al-Assad remains in power.

On the ground in Syria, Israel’s army said it retaliated for shots fired at its soldiers from Syria, scoring a "direct hit" on the source of the shooting in the latest spillover of violence across the ceasefire line.

In Damascus, Syria’s army bombarded several southern districts including Al-Hajar al-Aswad, according to the UK-based, pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The group said one civilian was killed and others wounded in the strikes.

Syria’s state media said that government soldiers “directed strong blows” against rebel fighters on the outskirts of the capital, “destroying a number of their vehicles and injuring many of them."

Mortar rounds also hit the mainly Alawite regime heartland of Mazzeh in west Damascus, which state television blamed on "terrorist groups."

Aleppo and its environs in the north saw heavy combat, the Observatory said, reporting rebels had seized control of a "large part" of a government army base they had been besieging for weeks.

Syria’s media reported that government troops in Aleppo destroyed five cars belonging to rebel fighters that had been packed with weapons and ammunition.

It added that “a unit of the Armed Forces killed a number of terrorists near the Fifth Industrial School in al-Salehin area, including terrorist Mohammad Abu Dan, leader of an armed terrorist group.”

Artillery fire hit the provinces of Daraa in the south and Deir Ezzor in the east, where rebels on Saturday said they seized Hamdan airport, a helicopter gunship base. State media reported that soldiers killed dozens of rebels in Deir Ezzor.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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