100 countries back new Syrian coalition: France
Marrakech: More than a 100 countries on Wednesday recognized a new Syrian opposition coalition, opening the way for greater humanitarian assistance to the forces battling Bashar Assad and possibly even military aid, France's foreign minister said.
The formation of the Syrian National Coalition appears to be the step the international community has been waiting for to extend deeper assistance to the opposition, which before had been criticized for not being sufficiently organized or representative.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the "Friends of the Syrian People" conference meeting in Marrakech, Morocco "extraordinary progress." He noted that the European Union is now renewing its weapons embargo on Syria every 3 months rather than annually to give them more flexibility as the situation on the ground changes.
"We want to have the ability to continue or to change our attitude on this point the fact that the coalition, which is asking for the right to defend itself is now being recognized by a hundred countries, yesterday the US and first France, I think this is a very important point."
The conference comes hours after President Barack Obama declared its new coalition was the "legitimate representative" of its country's people.
At the conference, Syrian opposition spokesman Walid al-Bunni called for "real support" and not just recognition. The Syrian National Coalition, formed in November during a conference in Doha, Qatar, has been calling for increased international support, including military material.
"We need not only bread to help our people," opposition member Saleem Abdul Aziz al Meslet told The Associated Press. "We need support for our Syrian army we need to speed up things and get rid of this regime."
Some of that support appeared to be forthcoming with Saudi Arabia announcing a USD100 million aid package at the conference.
Western countries have been reluctant to send arms to Syria, not the least because of their experience in Libya where the West actively backed one side in a civil war in a country that later became awash in militant groups.
There has been a noticeable hardening of the Western rhetoric though as the war in Syria has ground on for nearly 2 years killing more than 40,000 people according to estimates by rights groups and as the rebels score new battlefield victories, there are fears that Assad may turn to his chemical weapons arsenal.