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.

 

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai

Iraq sentences over 300 people to death for IS links

Syria chemical weapons visit delayed after gunfire