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France recognises Syrian opposition

BEIRUT — France became the first Western power to recognise a fledgling Syrian opposition coalition fully, stepping out beyond the United States, which said today the body must first show its clout inside Syria.

Six Gulf Arab states recognised the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces on Monday and France followed suit the next day, unlike its European partners.

President Francois Hollande’s decisive posture on Syria recalled that of his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy on Libya last year, when France led calls for NATO action to protect civilians which effectively helped Libyan rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi.

The European Union bans arms sales to Syria, but Hollande said the question of arming rebels would be examined when the coalition formed a transitional government. Paris had previously ruled this out, fearing arms could reach Islamist militants.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the formation of the coalition, which supersedes the widely discredited Syrian National Council as the face of the Syrian opposition, was an important step, but did not offer it full recognition or arms.

“We have long called for this kind of organisation. We want to see that momentum maintained,” Clinton told reporters in the Australian city of Perth. “As the Syrian opposition takes these steps and demonstrates its effectiveness in advancing the cause of a unified, democratic, pluralistic Syria, we will be prepared to work with them to deliver assistance to the Syrian people.”

Military backing

Suhair al-Atassi, a vice president of the new coalition, said that once it had proved it represents “revolutionary forces” on the ground, there would be no excuse for Western powers not to provide some form of military backing.

“The ball now is in the international community’s court,” she told Reuters in an interview in Dubai, blaming Western reticence to arm the rebels for the rise of extremism in Syria.

“There is no more excuse to say we are waiting to see how efficient this new body is. They used to put the opposition to the test. Now we put them to the test,” she declared.

Syrian insurgents have few weapons against Assad’s air force and artillery, which can pound rebel-held territory at will.

A Syrian warplane bombed the town of Ras al-Ain near the Turkish border again today, rocking buildings on the frontier and sending up huge plumes of smoke, in the latest of several attacks since rebels captured the town last week.

After 20 months of a conflict that has killed more than 38,000 people, fragmented Syrian opposition groups struck a deal in Qatar on Sunday to form a coalition led by Damascus preacher Mouaz Alkhatib, who has appealed for international recognition. (Reuters)

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