World powers recognise Syrian rebels

Syrian refugees warm themselves by a fire at a refugee camp in Atimeh, on the Syrian- Turkish border of the Idlib Governorate on Monday.

MARRAKECH, Morocco — Western and Arab nations sympathetic to Syria’s uprising against President Bashar al-Assad gave full political recognition today to the opposition, reflecting a hardening consensus that the 20-month-old uprising might be nearing a tipping point.

Meeting in the Moroccan city of Marrakech as rebels battled Assad’s troops on the outskirts of his Damascus power base, the Friends of Syria group called on Assad to step aside and warned him against using chemical weapons.

At the same meeting, the leader of Syria’s opposition coalition called on the Alawite minority to launch a campaign of civil disobedience against Assad, an Alawite who faces a mainly Sunni Muslim uprising against his rule.

Hours earlier, President Barack Obama announced that Washington would now recognise the newly formed coalition of opposition groups as Syria’s legitimate representative, joining France, Britain, Turkey and Gulf states.

“Participants acknowledge the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and the umbrella organisation under which the Syrian opposition are gathering,” said a draft declaration of the Marrakech meeting obtained by Reuters.

The gathering brings together many Western and Arab nations opposed to Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for 42 years. But it excludes Russia, China and Iran, which have backed Assad or blocked efforts to tighten international pressure on him.

“Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy and should stand aside to allow a sustainable political transition,” said the text.

‘Serious response’

Referring to Western intelligence reports suggesting Assad might use chemical and biological weapons, it said “any use of chemical weapons in Syria would be abhorrent and that this would draw a serious response from the international community”.

Participants announced the creation of a relief fund “to support the Syrian people”, calling on states and organisations to make contributions to the fund. (Reuters)

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