France recognises coalition in Syria


France broke ranks with its European allies last night by formally recognising Syria’s new opposition coalition as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people and signalling it could soon begin arming the rebels.

Syrian opposition groups struck a deal in Doha on Sunday to form a broad coalition to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad after 20 months of an uprising against his rule.

Arab and EU foreign ministers welcomed the formation of the coalition at a meeting in Cairo yesterday as an important step forward, but stopped short of recognising it. Within hours, however, French president François Hollande said Paris would do just that.

“I announce today that France recognises the Syrian National Coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people and as the future government of a democratic Syria, making it possible to bring an end to Bashar al-Assad’s regime,” he told a news conference at the Élysée Palace.

France was the first western state to recognise the Libyan opposition during the uprising against Col Muammar Gadafy, and has been one of Assad’s harshest critics.

Weapons ruled out

It has so far ruled out arming the Syrian rebels, citing concerns that weapons could end up in the hands of radical Islamists, but Mr Hollande suggested this stance would change once opponents of the Assad regime had formed a government-in-waiting.

Mr Hollande’s move came 24 hours after the coalition was recognised by the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.