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Thu Oct 23 05:47:45 SAST 2014

Recognise us - rebels

Reuters | 14 November, 2012 00:01
Tension Remains High In Golan Heights
An Israeli Merkava tank on the border line with Syria at the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights yesterday. Tension remains high in the disputed Golan Heights as Israeli defence forces retaliated after mortar shells were fired into Israeli territory from Syria Picture: URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES
Image by: Uriel Sinai / Getty Images

The leader of Syria's new opposition coalition urged European states yesterday to recognise it as the legitimate government, enabling it to buy the weapons it needs to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

Britain and France appeared to set further conditions, notably that it first rally support inside the country, before they grant full recognition to the Syrian National Coalition.

And, like the United States, Europeans are still reluctant to arm rebel forces, which include anti-Western Islamist militants.

Western caution, and an Arab League endorsement that stopped short of full recognition, indicate that the coalition forged with such difficulty in Qatar two days ago may yet find it hard to win wholehearted support, even from its allies.

Speaking to Reuters by telephone as Arab and European ministers met to discuss Syria at the Arab League in Cairo, Mouaz Alkhatib, the Damascus preacher elected unopposed on Sunday to lead the new group, asked for diplomatic backing.

"I request European states to grant political recognition to the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and to give it financial support," he said.

"When we get political recognition, this will allow the coalition to act as a government and hence acquire weapons and this will solve our problems," Alkhatib added.

France's defence minister and Britain's foreign minister both said that forming the new group under Alkhatib, a moderate noted for his embrace of Syria's religious and ethnic minorities, was an important milestone but not sufficient for full recognition as a government-in-waiting.

So far, concerted action on Syria has been thwarted by divisions within the opposition as well as by big power rivalries and a regional divide between Sunni Muslim foes of Assad and his Shi'ite allies in Iran and Lebanon.

Russia and China, which have lent Assad diplomatic support since the uprising erupted in March last year, have shown no sign of warming towards his Western- and Arab-backed opponents.

Cajoled by Qatar and the United States, the ineffectual Syrian National Council, previously the main opposition body based abroad, agreed to join a wider coalition on Sunday.

But French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the new body still needed to unite armed rebel factions in Syria under its umbrella to earn full recognition.

Britain's foreign minister, William Hague, also said the coalition must show it had support within Syria before London would acknowledge it as the rightful government.

Assad, whose family have ruled Syria for 42 years, has vowed to fight to the death in a conflict that has already killed an estimated 38000 people and risks sucking in other countries.

Tension also remained high on the Golan Heights, where Israeli gunners have retaliated against stray Syrian mortar fire landing on the occupied plateau in the previous two days.

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