First Published: 2012-12-12

 

Friends of Syria begin meeting in Morocco

 

Meeting will discuss post-Assad political transition, mobilisation of humanitarian aid amid Al-Qaeda concerns.

 

Middle East Online

By Simon Martelli - MARRAKESH, Morocco

Syrian opposition boosted by US recognition

Countries opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's regime meet in Morocco on Wednesday for talks on Syria's 21-month conflict after the US gave official backing to a new opposition bloc.

The Friends of Syria group meeting of Arab and Western states coincides with battlefield gains by Islamist rebels suspected of Al-Qaeda links, and a rapidly deteriorating refugee situation as winter sets in.

Headlining the talks, which are to begin in Marrakesh at 0930 GMT, are two key issues, namely the political transition after Assad's eventual fall and mobilising humanitarian aid.

With the total death toll from the civil war now topping 42,000, according to monitors, the UN refugee agency said the number of Syrian refugees who had fled to neighbouring countries and North Africa had now passed half a million.

But in a major boost for the newly formed opposition National Coalition, US President Barack Obama endorsed the group as "the legitimate representative" of the Syrian people.

"We have made a decision that the Syrian opposition coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population, that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people," Obama said on the eve of the Morocco meeting.

Russia, the Assad regime's most powerful ally, expressed surprise at the move, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying "the United States has decided to place all its bets on an armed victory of the National Coalition".

Under pressure to unite, the Syrian opposition agreed in Doha on November 11 to establish the National Coalition and group the various rebel forces under a supreme military council.

But jihadist rebels in Aleppo, a key front line in northern Syria, rejected the coalition, saying they want an Islamic state.

Among them was the Al-Nusra Front, which the United States blacklisted on Tuesday as a "terrorist" organisation.

Obama's recognition follows a similar move by the European Union on Monday, after EU foreign ministers met the coalition's leader, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib.

Earlier, Western diplomats and coalition members had expressed confidence the opposition group would consolidate its international backing as a viable alternative to Assad's beleaguered regime.

"It is our goal that, after the European Union, now the 130 states in the Friends of Syria group will send a message of recognition to the National Coalition of the Syrian opposition," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Al-Qaeda concerns

Despite the growing recognition, several EU member states have expressed reservations about the group, in terms of how representative it is and its democratic commitment.

Reflecting another potential threat to the coalition's credibility was the US decision to blacklist the Al-Nusra Front, which it accuses of hijacking the Syrian uprising.

Obama on Tuesday repeated State Department claims that Al-Nusra, while portraying itself as part of the legitimate opposition, was in fact a front for Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

A spokesman for the National Coalition insisted, however, that there were "inaccuracies" around Al-Nusra.

Yaser Tabbara said the extremist group could be divided into two factions -- one that supported the regime and committed acts of terror, and the other that did not -- and urged dialogue with the latter.

"They're not going to be a stumbling block in the recognition of the coalition," he said.

Tabbara also underlined hopes the Marrakesh meeting would help alleviate Syria's mounting humanitarian crisis and support the financial needs of "liberated" areas, in terms of salaries and services, which the group estimates at nearly $500 million per month.

Germany said late Tuesday it would provide another 22 million euros ($29 million) in humanitarian aid for victims and refugees of the conflict, bringing its total contribution to 90 million euros.

Westerwelle said the funds would go in particular to the Red Cross, the World Food Program and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

 

Heavy fighting shakes eastern Aleppo as army advances

Yemen prepares assault on Iran backed rebels near key strait

Palestinian Fatah conference ends with boost for Abbas

Nigeria and Morocco agree joint venture to link Africa to Europe

Blocked news website accuses Qatar government of censorship

China warns against obstruction of Iran nuclear deal

First buses take Aleppo residents back to ruined homes

Kurdish restrictions cause ‘unnecessary harm’ to Iraq Yazidis

Egypt court strikes down part of protest law

Syria army advances deeper into east Aleppo

US rules out military intervention in Libya

Saudi Arabia names new Labour Minister, reshuffles councils

Eight arrested in Morocco over alleged ties with IS

Syria regime seizes half of rebel parts of Aleppo

Europol warns of changing IS tactics

Palestinian contenders for Fatah posts set to declare

Protests erupt in Istanbul over ‘Aleppo massacre’

Aleppo family reunited after war kept them apart for months

Syria rebels put up fight for key Aleppo district

Obama unlikely to act on Israel-Palestine before leaving office

UN says torture 'widespread' after Turkey coup

International push aims to protect endangered heritage

Journalist's body found shot in Iraq’s Kurdish region

Iran urges Kenya to release two of its citizens

Morocco business diplomacy at heart of strategy to rejoin African Union

Turkish prosecutor calls for drop of Gaza ship charges against Israelis

Iran preparing ‘appropriate’ response to US sanctions renewal

Saudi government detects fresh hacking attempts

Qarawiyyin library holds written wonders

Putin getting admirers from US to Europe to Syria

Congress approves Iran sanctions extension

Staggering casualty toll in Mosul offensive

Pentagon says IS jihadists making 'last stand' in Sirte

Iraq faces post-IS problem in Shiite militias

Turkey detains business executive for alleged Gulen links

Putin says Russia not looking for enemies

Tunisia sentences protesters to 14 years in jail

Saudi increases jail term for rights activist to 11 years

Misery deepens for Mosul refugees with heavy rain

Turkish parliament to vote on bill expanding Erdogan’s power

UN envoy to Yemen, President meet in new peace bid

Syrian Grand Mufti rejects terrorism claims

Qatar blocks popular news website

Desperate civilians brave Aleppo front line

OPEC spares Iran oil production cuts