Syria: France backs anti-Assad coalition

BBC, November 13

France has become the first Western power to recognise Syria’s opposition coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

The move was announced by President Francois Hollande at a televised news conference in Paris.

Syrian opposition groups struck a deal in the Qatari capital Doha on Sunday to form a broad coalition to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

The US and Britain have both signalled support for the coalition.

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  • McClatchy, By Sheera Frenkel

    RAMOT NAFTALI, Israeli-Occupied Golan Heights — Syrian rebels are using their country’s northern and southern borders as a strategic fighting position, forcing the Syrian military to limit its response to rebel gains in an effort to avoid triggering a confrontation with neighboring countries, an Israeli military officer said Tuesday.

    Speaking from a hilltop overlooking the Syrian border, the officer, who serves in the country’s northern command, told McClatchy that in the last three weeks there has been a sharp increase in fighting between the Syrian military and rebel forces just a few miles from the Israeli border.

    “They know that near the Israeli border the Syrian army is limited in how they can hit them,” said the officer, who under military rules spoke only under the condition of anonymity. He described a cat-and-mouse game being played between rebels and the Syrian army. “The Syrian army doesn’t want to start a new front with Israel, they can’t maneuver as they’d like once the rebels get too close to the border,” he said.

    The official said well-publicized incidents earlier this week in which Syrian mortar rounds fell inside Israel were accidents, the inevitable result of the Syrian army trying to engage rebels who’d taken up positions near Israel.

    To illustrate the point, the official indicated on a map how close rebels who’d recently taken up positions between the villages Beerajam and Bariqa were to Israel. He noted that Syrian forces targeting the rebels were using “very basic, not very accurate” artillery and that any slight miscalculation would send a shell into Israel. He shrugged off rhetoric by Israeli politicians earlier this week that Israel was ready to escalate with Syria if need be.

    The same rebel tactics are also on display on Syrian’s northern border with Turkey. There, however, the Turkish government, which supports the rebels who are fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, has retaliated by opening fire on Syrian military positions every time a Syrian shell lands in Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cautioned Damascus not to test his country’s “limits and determination.”

    The delicacy of the rebel strategy has been on display recently in fighting for the Syrian border town of Ras al Ayn. On Tuesday, Syrian planes bombed rebel positions there, shaking buildings in the neighboring Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.

    Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking to reporters in Rome, said Ankara had formally protested the bombings near the border, saying the attacks were endangering Turkey’s security, state-run TRT television reported. He said Turkey had reported the incident to NATO allies and to the U.N. Security Council.

    Syrian rebel commanders speaking to McClatchy by phone said that the area near the Turkish border was “strategic, for every reason possible.”

    “In addition to giving us border access, the border area is a haven for us and a very, very important strategic point,” said Abu Muhammed, a rebel commander in the Idlib area who identified himself by a pseudonym. “We have focused a lot of attention on borders. We now have access along the border with Turkey and Iraq – we are on our way to choking off the regime.”

    The Israeli officer said he had noticed that the rebels had formed a strategic position around the Syrian village of Quneitra.

    More at the link

  • Islamist Groups Reject New Syrian Opposition Coalition

    New York Times, By Tim Arango, November 19

    Istanbul — Several extremist Islamist groups fighting in Syria have said they reject the new Syrian opposition coalition, which was formed under the guidance of the United States, Turkey and Gulf Arab countries. The development underscored worries about the rising influence of religious fundamentalism amid the chaos of the bloody civil war in Syria.

    The Islamist groups are involved in fighting government forces in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and include units aligned with Al Qaeda. They made their declaration in a video uploaded to the Internet on Sunday, saying that their goal was to establish an “Islamic state” in Syria and that they would reject any plans for the country imposed from abroad.

    At the conclusion of the video, a man holds up a Koran and yells, “Make the Koran your constitution and you will prosper!”

    The video, in turn, was quickly rejected by commanders of the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella group for loosely knit bands of opposition fighters across Syria, and some residents of Aleppo mocked the video on Facebook. While it called attention to the growing role played by Islamist groups, the video and the controversy it incited among other rebel groups also highlighted the lack of unity among the myriad groups trying to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

  • EU recognises Syrian National Coalition as ‘legitimate’ representative

    The EU on Monday recognised Syria’s newly formed Syrian National Coalition as the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people. The move stops short of official diplomatic recognition, which must be decided by each member state.

    France24 (wires), November 19

    European Union foreign ministers, in a new blow to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, on Monday said they viewed Syria’s just-formed National Coalition to be the “legitimate representatives” of the Syrian people.

    A statement from the bloc’s 27 ministers welcomed the November 11 formation of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and said: “The EU considers them legitimate representatives of the aspirations of the Syrian people.”

    “This agreement represents a major step towards the necessary unity of the Syrian opposition,” the ministers added.


    Italy however joined France on Monday and Britain is expected to clarify its position in a parliamentary debate on Tuesday.

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